What started as a way to get out of the house for Amy Bower and her 10-year-old daughter Ellie, has become a tradition for this family. For six years now, volunteering at the annual community Christmas dinner is now something shared and treasured between this mother and daughter.

"I had friends from high school that I grew up with that moved back here and Ellie and I are usually by ourselves on Christmas Day, so my friend encouraged me and said, 'Hey, you need to volunteer. It gets you out of the house, there's a lot of people.' So she encouraged me and that's kind of why we started," said Amy Bower. "No matter if we have opportunities for other plans or not, its just become our tradition and we look forward to it."

The pair started by handing out goodie bags as guests were leaving when Ellie was younger, but have since graduated to serving tables, as Ellie likes to practice her serving skills.

"It's just kind of fun. I've always thought about when I get to high school what am I going to do as a job to get money. I've always wanted to be a waitress or a baby sitter, so it's kind of pre-practice I guess," Ellie laughed.

Their favorite part of volunteering is knowing they're making someone smile.

"It's a happy feeling, knowing you're helping somebody and seeing all the new friendships being made," Ellie said.

"You don't want anyone to be lonely or sad on Christmas, and in reality, Christmas can be kind of sad. I think if a friendly smile and a little orneriness from Ellie can cheer somebody up, I hope that's what we do — that's why we want to be there," Bower said.

Because of a chance conversation while volunteering, Ellie now knows her passion as a fifth grader at Eisenhower Elementary School.

"Last year or two years ago I was getting someone’s food or drink and they told me a story about how their friend’s granddaughter went on to play really great soccer in a different country. I love soccer so that inspired me to continue soccer," Ellie said.

Bower said that the annual dinner speaks volumes about the McPherson community.

"Although its a free meal on Christmas, the intention of the dinner has been to help those that are alone and to provide a good meal to someone. It truly represents our community. So many different people are there from all ages — it truly feels like a family," Bower said.

The annual community Christmas Dinner is from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 25 at the McPherson High School commons, located on 801 E 1st St. All are welcome to a free dinner and no reservations are required.

For more information call 620-241-0035 or email McPhersonCommunityDinners@gmail.com or visit their McPherson Community Dinners Facebook page.

Contact Brooke Haas by email at bhaas@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter @ MacSentinel.