Janie Mattern used to spend a lot of time volunteering at FaithCentre. She would talk to people who came in to drink coffee and eat doughnuts.
Many who came to the coffee shop at FaithCentre — a thrift shop run by her church — seemed lonely and would talk about their finances, she said.
The drinks and pastries were free, but “I just didn’t think doughnuts were the most appropriate thing for them to be eating all day,” Mattern said.
“I thought, well maybe we could do something at the church where we could provide a place for them to get together to eat with other people and to have a well-balanced meal for a change,” Mattern said.
She talked to her friend, Debbie Smith about starting a free Christmas dinner at the Faith United Methodist Church in Bellefonte.
They advertised the idea in the church bulletin and held a meeting to gauge the congregation’s interest, Mattern said.
So many people showed up that night that the meeting had to take place in the sanctuary to hold everyone, she said.
“It just went so smoothly that you just knew that’s what the Lord wanted us to do. And it was just a whim,” she said.
That was 19 years ago. And the community dinner has grown since then, serving between 700 and 900 meals on Christmas Day.
Volunteers at the church will go and sit down with people who come in by themselves, said Charlie Gudeman, the church’s communications director.
“That was one of the purposes — so people could have other people to eat dinner with at Christmas,” Mattern added.
Members of the church and the community volunteer their time and donate food and money to make the dinner happen, said Mattern, who ran the event for about 15 years.
It takes more than 200 volunteers — from decorating to making food and everything in between — to pull off the event, said Kelly Smith, who’s organizing the dinner for the first time this year.
“This is very much a community dinner,” Gudeman said.
The church never seems to run short on helpers, Smith said.
The dinner is served from 4-6 p.m. on Sunday, and takeout is available between 3 and 5 p.m. Orders placed by Friday will be delivered on Christmas around the Bellefone area.
Dinner is served in the church’s fellowship hall, with china dishes and real silverware, Mattern said.
There’s even a maitre d’ and wait staff, Gudeman said.
The menu in the dining room includes turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, rolls, drinks and dessert.
More than 100 pies — pumpkin, apple and cherry — are donated, and almost 40 turkeys were cooked for the dinner.
“This has become part of so many families’ Christmas. … You’ve received and exchanged gifts in the morning, then you serve in the afternoon, and it really is rewarding for the people who work,” Gudeman said.
If you go
What: Bellefonte Community Christmas Day Dinner
Where: Faith United Methodist Church, 512 Hughes St., Bellefonte
When: 4-6 p.m. Sunday
Info: 355-3358, www.bellefontefaith.com/event/bellefonte-community-christmas-day-dinner