For 17 years, members of the community have come together at First United Methodist Church on Christmas morning to help feed those in need of a home cooked meal on Christmas day.

“Every year the need grows. This year we will serve close to 1,000 meals,” co-chairman Marilyn Mitten said.

The church sponsors the community dinner. The 200 or so volunteers that prepare, deliver and serve the meals are not just from the church, but come from many area churches, organizations and some just show up asking what can we do to help.

The food preparers arrived Saturday morning to get all the kitchen equipment ready and start the cooking. Final preparations started before 7 a.m. Christmas morning with teams of volunteers getting ready for deliveries and the families that came to the church for their dinner.

For some, it is a family event.

This year, 7-week-old Gentry Lewis made it a three-generation family event joined by his mother and father, Chris and Melissa Lewis and grandparents Mike and Barbara McClain.

While Gentry in his Santa suit slept through the packing and delivery schedule briefing, he too someday will join in.

“I was just a teenager and I was on the board that organized the first community dinner. Along with my mom and dad, we have been here ever since. It in nice to know we are helping someone have a little merrier Christmas,” Melissa said.

Mike Hamilton is an executive chef on a private yacht based in the Caribbean and is home on vacation visiting his parents, Arleen and John Hamilton. He offered his talents tending to the ovens and making sure each pan of food was cooked to perfection.

“This is a much better cause than just hanging around in the sun. It is good for the soul. Besides I can’t be in the sun all the time,” Hamilton said. Hamilton was joined in the kitchen by his mother, who was busy mixing up pans of mashed potatoes.

“We’ve been here twice to eat, and this is our first tome to help. It’s a wonderful thing for the community,” Hamilton said.

The community dinner delivers to those who can’t get out to get to the church or those who couldn’t fix a meal for themselves. For those who can get to the church meals are packaged to be taken back home.

“This year, we are taking the dinners to the motels in the city to feed those who are away from home on Christmas and don’t have a way to get a good meal,” Mitten said.

“We’re here to help; we can deliver, or whatever you need. What can we do,” Valerie Stewart asked. Soon Stewart along with her husband, Tim, and their son, Tyler, were loading up 135 meals to take to one of the Waxahachie motels. “It’s Christmas and this is a family tradition and we’ll have our family Christmas gathering later,” Valerie said.

One of the many veterans that have volunteered since the beginning, Joe Smith took a moment for a hug from a co-volunteer and to remember the beginning of the making the holiday meals.

“We were all on the committee that started the dinners 17 years ago. Little did we know what it would grow to,” Smith said.      

While Smith was busy preparing containers of fruit and getting slices of ham to the meal packers, he stopped a moment to reflect on a time when he was one of the deliverers.

“I went to this elderly lady that lived by herself to deliver her meal. She told me I was the first person she had seen in a week. We stood there hugging each other and singing Christmas carols. It was an experience I will never forget. This is what Christmas is all about,” Smith said.

“It’s a family tradition. We enjoy helping people; especially those who can’t get out of their homes,” 17-year-old Jake Loose said. “This is the way we can share the Christmas spirit with others.”

Loose was joined by his mother, Julie, his father, little sister and brother in packing up the back of the family van for several deliveries.

By noon the deliveries were well on their way and the many of the volunteers returned to join the guests that braved the cold wind to enjoy the community dinner.

“I think this is a wonderful community outreach the church and the community have joined to do. It is very busy, but very rewarding,” Mitten said.

Plans are being made to make the 18th community dinner bigger and better.