Faith United Methodist Church in Bellefonte has been serving a joint Christmas dinner since 1997.
A number of churches in Center County generously provide meals to the local community during the holiday season and even beyond.
One of the most ambitious and effective such endeavors is the Community Christmas Day Dinner at Faith United Methodist Church, 512 Hughes Street, Bellefonte. The dinner is entering its 24th year and has grown by leaps and bounds, says Andy Morgan, high priest at Faith UMC.
The communal dinner began in 1997 and originally served about 100 people. This year, the dinner is expected to serve 700-800 people.
The COVID-19 pandemic limited what the church could do in 2020, with all meals either delivered or taken out. But they are back for a fully served dinner in 2021, Morgan explains.
“This year we’re back to what our normal tradition is. Last year was a little crazy with the pandemic,” Morgan says. “But we want people in our dining room and we want to serve them a meal. It’s not a buffet line. They sit and we have waiters who will bring them a meal. We try to make it a very elegant and wonderful experience. ”
And the event is pretty festive, Morgan says.
“Our dining room is decorated with a different theme each year. There are nice table settings. We want it to have a banquet atmosphere. We are working hard to try to create that environment, ”says Morgan.
Although the delivery and takeaway options are popular, he hopes most attendees will choose to dine.
“We really encourage people to come here and eat, because we would much rather have them be with people on Christmas day,” he says. “That was really how the meal started. Our people really did not want anyone to be alone on Christmas day. Come as a family and eat with other families. If you are alone, come and be with people. That was one of the goals early on. They only ate one personal meal. They did not do all the takeaway and delivery. “
What about the food? Well, if you’ve ever been to one of Faith’s Football Friday Dinners, you know the meals are top notch. This year’s Christmas dinner will consist of turkey, mashed potatoes, fillings, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, a roll and dessert.
“It’s almost all homemade,” Morgan says.
The church bought 25 “about 22-pound” turkeys prior to dinner, he says. However, due to the ongoing problems with the supply chain, it presented its own share of challenges.
“We struggled to get turkeys. We used to just order them all from the Weis store, but they said they could not fulfill our order. We got them as we could to serve the community,” Morgan says.
Once the turkeys are acquired, the fun begins in earnest.
“They cook them all here. Then we get a crew to come in and debone them and get them ready to serve,” Morgan says.
One area of the dinner that Faith UMC never has a problem taking care of is the dessert table. The pumpkin pies were purchased from Way Fruit Farm. The other pies are donated from community members who simply love to bake. There are fruit pies, pecan pies and even chocolate pies.
“There’s a really good variation,” Morgan says.
When he says that dinner is a common event, he means it. To cope, there are dozens of volunteers coming together to help. From cooking to cleaning up and everything in between, it takes a lot of selfless people who are willing to give a good portion of their Christmas day to make things work.
“We get a lot of volunteers who come every year. They may not be a member of our church – they may not be a member of any church – but they want to come and give back to the community in some way on Christmas day, ”says Morgan.
“This is really led by the volunteers in our church. Our staff will often be volunteers in different ways, but all the organizers are volunteers… it really is a volunteer-led service and mission,” he says.
At this point, the dinner acts as a well-oiled machine. The church will have a main count for meals – personal, takeaway and delivery. To date, the church has never run out of food.
“All I can say is that God has always provided. One year we earned over 900, and we honestly do not know how we did it,” Morgan says.
While there is no charge for the meal, Morgan says many people who attend donate money to the church. However, the church does not put the money in its own coffers. All the money raised from the Community’s Christmas dinner will be donated to a worthy cause.
“We made the decision about 10 years ago that all the money we collect on Christmas Day we give away,” Morgan explains. “We will receive anything from $ 1,000 to $ 3,000 and we will give it all away.”
In the past, the money has gone to causes, including Bellefonte’s Faith Center Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, and world hunger organizations. The Food Bank will be the recipient this year.
“We give back either to society or the needs of the world, and we try really hard to let people know,” Morgan says. “We really want to use this [event] to bless others. It’s not about what we can get, it’s about what we can give. ”
Takeaway dinners are available from 7 p.m. 15-17, while the dining part takes place from kl. 16-18. To request a meal for delivery or takeaway, call the church no later than Wednesday, December 22 at (814) 355-3358 or sign up online at bellefontefaith.com/dinner
Chris Morelli, a resident of Pleasant Gap, is an employee reporter at Expressen in Lock Haven and freelance writer. This story appears in the December 2021 issue of City & Dress.