MARION - With about 350 meals served, including carryouts and deliveries, the first annual Community Christmas Dinner hosted by the First Church of God in Marion was a smashing success.
Youth pastor Mike Lange and his wife, Heather, who serves as church secretary, formulated the idea of a Christmas Day meal.
"It was laid on his heart last year and he really wanted someplace for everyone to be able to come together and have a meal with one another and enjoy some time together on Christmas," Heather Lange said of her husband.
Pastor Roy Pepmiller described Monday's event as "wonderful" and something he fully expects his church to continue going forward.
"Definitely," he said. "There may even be some occasions before our next Christmas dinner when we try something like this again. We like the idea of helping folks in our community and surrounding communities.
"We were talking about our vision statement of 'sharing life' and one of the things he (Mike Lange) thought would be good would be if we just did a meal for any family in the community or even in our own church who doesn't have somewhere to be on Christmas day,"
Pepmiller said there were visitors from Harrisburg, Carbondale, Johnston City and West Frankfort, as well as Marion. First responders were also treated to a meal.
"Our first responders have to work on holidays," the pastor said. "What are they going to do for their celebration? So, we were glad to serve them, too."
One of the beneficiaries of the free holiday meal was Marie of Marion, who brought three children with her.
"It was just an amazing time," she said. "There was a lot of smiling and laughing. The food was good and Santa Claus was even there with a stocking and present for all the kids."
Mike Lange said the work to put on the dinner was well worth it.
"What I enjoyed most was just talking to everyone that came in and making sure they were taken care of," he said. "I also really enjoyed being around our church family and seeing how many took the time to come and help. Whether is was 30 minutes or all day, a lot of them canceled or rearranged their family traditions to maybe start a new one."