The annual Community Christmas Day Dinner draws its share of hungry people, to be sure. That includes those hungry for more than the baked ham and cheesy potatoes on part of the varied menu.
“Christmas Day can be pretty lonely for people without family or friends nearby,” said Jim Sollenberger, one of about 35 volunteers who work at the free event. “This is a good time for fellowship.”
The meal, a social affair with live music, unfolds from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church and school cafeteria, 719 Fifth St. in Columbus. Diners should enter by the rear door off the parking lot. Carry-out dinners will be available.
Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center serves as a partner for the holiday happening. And The Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County provides financial support.
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The gathering is open to all, and is not based on financial need. In that past, many who have attended simply had no area relatives to gather with or any other place to go to share a holiday meal.
Organizers are preparing to serve substantially more than last year’s 425 dinners (about 100 more than in 2014), facilitator Trish Meier said. This year, she and her volunteers aim to have more than 42 pounds of homemade potatoes and goodness-knows-how-much green beans — enough of a hit that those entrees ran out last year during a round of second helpings.
“The weather always figures into things (with attendance),” Meier said. “And the early forecast this year has called for rain (and temperatures in the mid-50s). Sometimes that keeps some people home.”
Besides feeding those onsite, organizers ideally aim to have enough left over to share with people such as those at area shelters or with local emergency personnel.
Meier, who has used her sales director background to plan the gathering, in in her fifth year as the overseer.
“I guess I felt God’s calling to step up and lead it,” she said. “And I’ve always been a hostess kind of person, so it wasn’t a huge stretch for me to do something like this.
“Of course, it turned out to be a lot bigger and a bit more of an undertaking than I originally thought.”
She joked about needing “a lot of arm muscle” to mix ingredients for her potatoes specialty. She makes the entire effort a family affair for the dinner.
Eighteen-year-old son Nolan Meier arrives with mom about 8:30 a.m. to help prepare about 200 pounds of spiral hams. Husband Shane Meier chats with diners and makes sure they feel welcome. Son Mickey, 12, mans the drinks station. Daughter Gabbie Meier, 10, works on the serving line.
Father-in-law Charles Meier washes dishes.
“They’re definitely supportive and instrumental,” she said.
They all love being able to help others enjoy the special day, Trish Meier said.
She’s absolutely OK with a more refined schedule than a few years ago.
“When the kids were all little, we might wake up and practically could stay in our PJs half the day,” Trish Meier said with a laugh. “Now, we have to be more structured, and make sure we’re out the door by a certain time.”
Jim and Karen Sollenberger say the Meiers do a solid job with the dinner. They simply enjoy being a part of it.
“Sometimes, Christmas today can be all about getting,” Jim Sollenberger said. “It’s nice to make this all about giving.”
As an example, volunteers always are careful to ask attendees if they have any prayer requests that organizers can take to heart.
“We all just hope that by showing simple kindness and love, we can in our dealings with others reflect God’s love,” Sollenberger said.
What: Community Christmas Day Dinner of spiral ham, cheesy potatoes, green beans, rolls, pie and other offerings.
When: Noon to 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: St. Peter’s Lutheran Church cafeteria, 719 Fifth St. in Columbus. Diners should enter via the rear entrance off the parking lot.
Cost: Free and open to all.
Why: To give people a place for a warm Christmas dinner in a loving atmosphere of fellowship.