he new coordinator of an annual community Christmas Day dinner understands the importance of outreach.

Donna Smith’s family struggled enough that the local Firemen’s Cheer Fund made sure she saw Christmas gifts under the tree as a youngster.

So she happily will serve at the gathering from noon to 2 p.m. Dec. 25 at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, 719 Fifth St. in Columbus. Smith replaces Trish Meier, who stepped aside after working for five years as the point person.

Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center works alongside St. Peter’s to organize the effort. The Custer Foundation, The Nugent Foundation and Cummins Inc. provide financial support.

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The free ham-and-fixings meal is open to everyone and is not based on financial need. Many of the 400 people attending last year or in previous years have mentioned that most of their relatives were gone, and they had no one with which to share their meal.

A total of 425 people attended in 2015. In 2011, that number reached 500.

“It feels good just knowing that you’ve helped put a smile on people’s face,” said Smith, a St. Peter’s member. “And it’s nice to know that you have taken a moment to share the love of Jesus with them.”

She referred to the fact that she has volunteered at the dinner for the past nine years, arriving about 9:30 a.m. and leaving after cleanup by about 4 p.m. She has greeted diners and cooked mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans. She’s sliced pies and cleaned tables. You name it.

Before she began volunteering, she battled bits of depression and “a pity party,” as she puts it, after a divorce.

“Then I realized, ‘This is ridiculous,’” she said. “That prompted me to get involved.”

Now, she has traded pity for passion and compassion. And she has traded her own loneliness to soften others’ sense of being alone on the holiday.

She laughed when asked how she can tackle such a volunteer task when she works as a purchasing finance associate for Cummins Inc.

“You learn to make time,” Smith said. “And God provides.”

Diane Doup, Lincoln-Central’s community outreach coordinator, loves the dinner and its impact.

“It’s a joy to work with St. Peter’s to provide such a joy-filled — and yummy — meal for folks in our community,” Doup said. “We hope anyone looking for a delicious home-cooked meal, a warm place to spend the holiday or a room filled with friendly faces, will drop in.”

Speaking of a warm place, at least one set of volunteers always is careful to check with diners about challenges they may be facing or prayer requests they have.

Though the meal does not include home deliveries, organizers are encouraging shut-ins needing a dinner to ask someone to pick one up for them, since takeouts are available.

If you go

What: Annual ham-and-fixings community Christmas Day dinner for those with nowhere to go for food or fellowship. Open to all, and not based on financial need.

When: Noon to 2 p.m. Dec. 25.

Where: St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, 719 Fifth St., Columbus. Parking is in the back lot just off the playground. Entrance is next to the flagpole.

Cost: Free.

Information: 812-379-1630.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.