Instead of opening presents Christmas morning, volunteers at Gloria Dei Evangelical Lutheran Church peeled back foil covers on roasting hams and skins off sweet potatoes.
“I’ve been here since 9:30,” volunteer Joe Williams, of Huntington, said just before the doors opened for the church’s annual free Christmas dinner.
The dinner drew more than 150 people to Olson Hall in Huntington Station from noon to 2 p.m. Deacon Dick Theyden, the event organizer, said Sunday marked the 31st year the church has held the dinner.
“It’s not necessarily for the homeless, but it’s also for people who are lonesome this time of year,” he said. “A lot of fire departments and stuff do Thanksgiving, but not many do Christmas. We stepped in to fill that void.”
In the kitchen, volunteers worked from 6 a.m. until the dinner bell to prepare the food. Foil trays sat full of mashed potatoes and stuffing while volunteers sliced roasted hams fresh out of the oven and carved a dozen turkeys.
“I’m probably the best turkey carver,” Williams, 84, said with a smile.
Williams had plans to visit his son later in the day for their own holiday dinner, but first, he said, he wanted to stop by the church. Volunteering to prepare the dinner has become a tradition of his over the past four years, he said, and he appreciates what the meal means for others.
“It’s such a good gesture for people that don’t have a good meal,” he said. “I feel good about it.”
In the hall, Karen O’Donnell, of Melville, showed up more than a half-hour early to make sure she and her friends could get a good seat at the dozens of tables set up.
“We’re all seniors and we wouldn’t be going to each other’s homes, so it’s a great opportunity to celebrate,” O’Donnell said. “The food is delicious and the people are friendly.”
For Ian Callahan, 22, the dinner was also an opportunity to reconnect with others in his community. Callahan regularly attended the church with his family before moving to Massapequa several years ago, and he decided to return as a volunteer this year with his sister and father.
“I’m Christian and I think it’s part of my moral code of ethics to volunteer,” Callahan said, lighting a Sterno can to keep the buffet food warm.
When the buffet opened, a line of people that wrapped around the gym formed.
Lillie Cotten, 77, of Amityville, stayed in her seat to wait her turn. She said that when her neighbor invited her to come last year, she was so impressed she wanted to return when she was asked again this year.
“The dinner is great, it’s been beautiful the two years I’ve come,” Cotten said. “There are so many people who can’t cook a Christmas meal.”