CHAMPAIGN — For an entire decade, an army of volunteers provided a free Christmas dinner for anyone who needed one at First Christian Church in Champaign.
But the dinner has been discontinued for this year and beyond, and not only because of the pandemic.
“The leadership that really organized it decided to wrap it up after 10 years,” said First Christian Lead Pastor Danny Schaffner Jr.
Schaffner said many of the organizers are with CU Church, and First Christian had continued to be a partner by hosting the dinner with multiple churches, community organizations and Carle Health participating.
The dinner came complete with appetizers and small gifts for kids, providing not only a meal but also company for those who would otherwise be alone on the holiday.
Carle executive Lynne Barnes was the driving force behind the dinner, Schaffner said.
“We are forever grateful to her leadership and love for the community,” he said. “Her friends and family really spearheaded much of it.”
Barnes said the decision to end the annual Christmas dinner was made pre-pandemic, and shared with volunteers at the end of last year’s Christmas dinner.
“We loved doing the community Christmas dinner,” she said. “But after 10 years, we just thought it was the right time to close it out, and, frankly, for our family to have a more traditional Christmas. But we had a good run.”
The annual dinners typically attracted about 400 guests, she said.
Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, in Champaign plans to continue distributing a to-go holiday meal for those who need one on the day before Thanksgiving and on Christmas Eve, said Ellen Harms, a member of the soup kitchen’s executive committee.
People who come to pick up those meals will also get a sack lunch to take with them, she said.