Above: Volunteers prepare food for the annual Community Christmas Dinner in Salida, Colo. Salida United Methodist Church has been hosting it for the last 25 years, according to Barbara Williams, a co-organizer of the event. Below: Larry and Barbara Williams decked out for Christmas. Photos courtesy Barbara Williams
What started as a small Christmas Day meal at a restaurant 30 years ago has now grown to a community gathering of more than 500 people at Salida United Methodist Church in Colorado.
Barbara and Larry Williams, members of Salida UMC, have been coordinating the free Community Christmas Dinner for 10 of the 25 years it has been hosted at the church.
"It's not just for the needy, it's for the whole community," Barbara said. "It's for families or those who are alone and like to be with other people."
Barbara said the event is funded by donations from the community and supplies are ordered through US Foods, a national distributor. This is because to feed more than 500 people requires a little more than what local stores can provide.
"We get 10 cases of pies," Barbara said, with a laugh. "We cook 22 20-pound turkeys; that's over 400 pounds of turkey."
To pull off such a feat, Barbara said she has a committee of 17 people with various jobs.
"It's a huge amount of details that have to be handled," she said. "But we never have a loss for volunteers."
Indeed, as she noted that 100 volunteers step in to feed and deliver meals to the Salida community on Christmas Day. Six crews of people go around town delivering about 100 pre-ordered meals.
It's not just for the needy, it's for the whole community." - Barbara Williams, member of Salida UMC and co-organizer of the Community Christmas Dinner, along with her husband, Larry.
Pastor Rhonda Plinske, who was appointed to Salida UMC this summer, said the magnitude of the Community Christmas Dinner has helped elevate the church locally.
"It's a big deal," Plinske said. "Yesterday the phone kept ringing with volunteers. It's a really good opportunity for the community to come together."
Although this will be her first Community Christmas Dinner, Plinske recognizes the importance of hosting it at Salida United Methodist Church.
"It's a way to help a church grow," she said. "We help them feel comfortable. When people are looking for a church, they'll remember where they were comfortable."