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McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • Community Christmas Dinner: Board keeps community spirit during the holidays

  • This Christmas will mark the 17th year for the Annual Free Community Christmas Dinner.
    A staple of the McPherson Community since 1996, the Annual Free Community Christmas Dinner is organized every year by Community Thanksgiving Incorporated, which also organizes the annual Free Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
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  • This Christmas will mark the 17th year for the Annual Free Community Christmas Dinner.
    A staple of the McPherson Community since 1996, the Annual Free Community Christmas Dinner is organized every year by Community Thanksgiving Incorporated, which also organizes the annual Free Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
    Initially organized by Karla Brown, a woman who lived in McPherson and didn’t have any family in the area, the concept has been to offer holiday meals that would serve as a community gathering for those who were in a similar situation.
    It was at the senior center the first year with about 50 people attending, Community Thanksgiving Inc. Secretary Verla Thomason said. Afterward it went to the community building, where it’s been every year since.
    Thomason said McPherson Community Christmas Dinner expects about 750 guests this year, after having watched the event grow over the years.
    “It has always been a free meal,” Thomason said. “Corporate and private donations have always made it possible.”
    The board members of Community Thanksgiving Inc. put in hard work and long hours to ensure the best experience possible for the event’s guests.
    Community Thanksgiving Inc. Vice President Barb Greischar said the board originally formed from event volunteers who were devoted to seeing it continue and get better and bigger.
    “Now we have people volunteer for the board, and we vote on them,” Greischar said.
    Thomason said the organization operated as an equal committee rather than a group answering to a single leader.
    “People will come with different skills,” Thomason said, “and we also have people who will come and just pick it up. We’re lucky enough to have people who know what they’re doing. We’ve got an electrician, a banker and others who’ve come to us with their skills to contribute to the dinner.”
    Thomason said the board faces consistent challenges as the turnout for the Free Christmas Dinner grows every year.
    “The more guests we have, the more equipment we need. We’re very lucky to be able to do it all with donations and grants,” Thomason said. “For five months we put a lot of work into this. We have to buy supplies for both dinners at the same time, and we have to prepare for both dinners at the same time, too.”
    Greischar said the dinners have been served by often loyal volunteer staffs.
    “We have many, many repeat volunteers,” Greischar said. “Families, even. We take them as little as 6, and we won’t let the littlest ones handle the hot food. They can wrap silverware or make gift bags. We have something they can do to help.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Help comes from elsewhere too. Board member Jody Miller said McPherson elementary school art classes make goodie bags every year.
    “The students at St. Joseph do our wall art as well,” Miller said. “The one area we could really use more volunteers in is those willing to help with setup the day before.”
    The board goes out of its way to bring a bit of a seasonal meal to those in the community who could use it, including the staff of area hotels, motels and convenience stores.
    Thomason said there are many people she and the board would like to be able to reach.
    “There are people who don’t read the paper or listen to the radio,” Thomason said,” and they’re isolated. These are the people we really need to reach. They’re the people who could really use this contact and sense of community the most.”
    The Annual Free Christmas Dinner will begin at 11:30 a.m. at the McPherson Community Building at 122 E. Marlin on Christmas Day, with the doors opening at 11:15 a.m.
    Those wishing to attend the dinner should make reservations by calling Jody and Merlin Miller at 241-1292 by Monday at the latest. Those who would request carryout or delivered meals also should call the Millers to make a reservation.
    Those interesting in being volunteers should call Barb Greischar at 245-0313.
    Leftover food is available to be taken by those who bring their own containers and will be made available after 1:30 p.m.
    The Annual Free Christmas Dinner is funded entirely by donations from businesses and private individuals. Donations can be mailed to Community Thanksgiving Inc., P. O. Box 14 McPherson, KS 67460. A donation box with envelopes will also be at the dinner in the lobby.
    Community Thanksgiving Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

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