Church serves food, fellowship on Christmas Day

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Huntington Station hosted its 28th annual Christmas dinner Wednesday. Volunteers look forward to the event because it's a way to give back to the community and help those who might not have family to spend time with on Christmas. Videojournalist: Ed Betz (Dec. 25, 2013)

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Justin Brochhausen began his Christmas morning worship Wednesday by peeling yams -- followed by a round of scrubbing dishes.

Brochhausen, 27, of Syosset, was one of the dozens of volunteers helping at a free Christmas dinner at the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Huntington Station.

"It's good to worship through service, rather than just going to church," he said as he stood in the church's kitchen. "Going out to do something to help people's lives is part of the teachings of Jesus."

The church has hosted a free dinner every Christmas for the past 28 years, attracting those who don't have another place to go or can't afford to make their own holiday dinner, Deacon Dick Thyden said.

"It's not a homeless question here -- it's more a lonesome question," Thyden said. "A lot of kids have left the Island. Their parents and grandparents are left sitting and looking at four blank walls."

Leonard Kramer, 86, of Huntington Station, arrived well before the noon meal began, staking out a spot with friends at a table decorated with a festive poinsettia and silverware.

While he and his partner spent Christmas Eve with her family, the two found themselves with no plans on the holiday itself.

"It's very nice," Kramer said of the event. "There's people we know. We meet people. It's better than being home alone."

All morning, church members streamed into the kitchen, carrying hot turkeys they had roasted at home.

Pastor Joel Brandt said the church often gets an overload of people wanting to volunteer.

"I've been really impressed by some parents who bring their kids and say, 'This is what we want for our kids. They need to know the power of serving our community,' " he said.

Kevin Cunningham of South Huntington said he even met the woman who became his wife while volunteering at the dinner 13 years ago -- the two shook hands while covered in turkey drippings.

Wednesday, he planned to spend nine hours in the church's kitchen before going home to spend the rest of the holiday with his family.

"This is one of my favorite days of the year," Cunningham said. "This is, to me, the meaning of Christmas."

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