Free dinner again set for Christmas day

Free dinner again set for Christmas day

CHAMPAIGN — First Christian Church will host a free turkey dinner for hundreds of folks who would otherwise be alone or without a meal on Christmas day.

And the dinner will come complete with holiday music, decorations and gifts for the kids.

The church hopes to serve 400 people on Christmas, and needs about 200 volunteers from the community to help, said Lynne Barnes, one of the dinner planners.

Volunteers are needed to do a variety of jobs such as carving 40 turkeys, serving food, wrapping gifts, picking up guests who lack transportation and driving them home and helping with clean-up, she said.

The event will start with appetizers at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 25 followed by a traditional sit-down dinner at 1 p.m. at the church at 3601 S. Staley Road, C.

The dinner will be held regardless of winter weather conditions.

Jim Turpin, host of A Penny for Your Thoughts on NewsTalk 1400 WDWS, will emcee the dinner program.

This Christmas meal started in 2010 with 220 guests attending, and it grew last year to serve 324 people, Barnes said.

The church is the location, she says, "but really it's a community event."

Local businesses provide a lot of the food. All the gifts provided for children and teens are provided by just a few donors, Barnes said.

"A lot of people are willing to help and make this possible," she adds.

Volunteers come from as far away as Decatur and Peoria, and one donation helping pay for the dinner this year is coming from many states away, Barnes says.

Last year, a man in Florida read about the dinner in The News-Gazette online and contacted the church and asked if a volunteer would deliver dinner to his mother in Champaign if he paid for it, Barnes recalls.

"We said, 'no, you don't have to pay us. We'd do that happily,'" she said.

A volunteer brought the free meal to the man's mother, and the man was so grateful, he sent the church a $100 check a couple of weeks later, Barnes said. The church saved the money to help pay for this year's dinner, she added.

The dinner is free, but reservations should be made no later than Dec. 20 by calling 493-4202. Or send an email to

Some information to include with your reservation:

— Your name, the number of people attending and a daytime phone number.

— Whether you need a ride to the dinner.

— If children will be attending, include their genders and ages for gift information.

Volunteers willing to help with the dinner can sign up online this year.

The website is:

There are different time commitments available throughout the morning and afternoon, with the earliest shift starting at 6:30 a.m. for food prep and the latest shift starting at 2 p.m. for taking guests home.

Want to volunteer but lack online access to sign up? Call the dinner reservation line.