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Faith UMC in Bellefonte provides holiday dinners to the community

PHOTO PROVIDED A centerpiece, surrounded by slices of pie, at a past Faith UMC dinner is pictured.

BELLEFONTE — It’s Christmastime.

In Bellefonte, that means one thing a — the Faith United Methodist Church’s Christmas Day Dinner is almost here.

The Community Christmas Day Dinner takes place at Faith United Methodist Church, 512 Hughes St., in Bellefonte. The dinner is entering its 24th year and has grown by leaps and bounds, said Andy Morgan, lead pastor at Faith UMC.

The community dinner began in 1997 and originally served about 100 people. This year, the dinner is expected to serve 700-800 people.

The COVID-19 pandemic limited what the church could do in 2020, with all meals either delivered or taken out. But they are back to a fully-served dinner in 2021, Morgan explained.

“This year, we’re back to what our normal tradition is. Last year was sort of crazy with the pandemic,” Morgan said. “But we will have people in our dining room and we will serve them a meal. It’s not a buffet line. They are seated and we have wait staff who will bring them a meal. We try to make it a very elegant and nice experience.”

And the event is quite festive, Morgan said.

“Our dining room is decorated with a different theme every year. There are nice table settings. We want it to have a banquet feel. We work hard to try and create that environment,” Morgan said.

As for the food? Well, if you’ve ever been to one of Faith’s Football Friday Dinners, you know that the meals are top-notch. This year’s Christmas dinner will consist of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, a roll and dessert.

“It’s almost all homemade,” Morgan said.

The church purchased 25 “around 22-pound” turkeys in advance of the dinner, he said. However, because of the ongoing problems with the supply chain, that presented its own share of challenges.

“We were struggling to get turkeys. We used to just order them all from the Weis store, but they said that they could not fill our order. We got them as we could to serve the community,” Morgan said.

Once the turkeys are acquired, the fun really begins.

“They cook them all here. Then, we have a crew come in and de-bone them and get them ready to serve,” Morgan said.

One area of the dinner that Faith UMC never has issues taking care of is the dessert table. The pumpkin pies are purchased from Way Fruit Farm. The other pies are donated from community members who simply love to bake. There are fruit pies, pecan pies, and even chocolate pies.

“There’s a really nice variety,” Morgan said.

When he said the dinner is a community event, he means it. To pull it off, there are dozens of volunteers who come together to help. From cooking to cleanup and everything in between, it takes a lot of selfless people who are willing to give a good portion of their Christmas Day to pull things off.

“We get a lot of volunteers who come every year. They may not be a member of our church — they may not be a member of any church — but they want to come and give back to the community in some way on Christmas Day,” Morgan said.

“This really is led by the volunteers in our church. Our staff will often volunteer in different ways, but all of the organizers are volunteers … it really is a volunteer-led ministry and mission,” he said.

At this point, the dinner operates like a well-oiled machine. The church will get a head count for meals — in-person, takeout, and delivery. To date, the church has never run out of food.

“All I can say is that God has always provided. One year we served over 900 and we honestly don’t know how we did that,” Morgan said.

While there is no charge for the meal, Morgan says that many people who take part donate money to the church. The church, however, does not put the money in its own coffers. All of the money collected from the Community Christmas Day Dinner is donated to a worthy cause.

“We made the decision about 10 years ago that any money we collect on Christmas Day we give away,” Morgan explained. “We’ll receive anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, and we will give it all away.”

In the past, the money has gone to causes including Bellefonte’s Faith Centre Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity and world hunger organizations. The food bank will be the recipient this year.

“We give back either to the community or world needs and we try really hard to let people know that,” Morgan said. “We really want to use this (event) to bless others. It’s not about what we can get, it’s about what we can give.”

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