GOSHEN — How much food does it take to serve Christmas dinner to 644 people?
By David Pepple's estimation, you'd need about six 20-pound turkeys, 16 eight-pound turkey breasts and 150 pounds of ham.
“Then yesterday I got two more 18-pound birds because I wasn't sure we had enough,” Pepple said.
He and a small army of volunteers served the 15th annual free Christmas dinner Wednesday, Dec. 25, at First Presbyterian Church of Goshen.
Pepple, wearing an apron that proclaimed “Real Men Don't Need Recipes,” moved through the dining room and kitchen chatting with the volunteers.
He said preparations for the meal began around Thanksgiving, when he started making shopping lists and handing out assignments to volunteers.
More than 200 people helped with the event in one way or another, Pepple said.
Even Pastor Alan Griffin helped out washing dishes.
“He's our best dish washer,” Pepple said with a laugh.
The tradition was started 15 years ago by a couple at the church and has been passed down to other organizers through the years, growing from feeding around 70 people to nearly 700.
“They saw that a lot of places did a Thanksgiving meal, other churches and the Salvation Army and places like that, but no one had a Christmas meal,” Pepple said. “It can be a lonely, sad time of the year for some people, and others don't have the funds to enjoy a Christmas dinner.”
Some diners return year after year, as do many of the volunteers, he said.
“Those of us that serve get way more out of this than we give to those who gather for the meal,” Pepple said.
Larry Auld of Elkhart has been in charge of the kitchen during the event for the last six years.
“When my wife passed away six years ago, I just couldn't be with family on Christmas Day, but I needed to be with people,” Auld said.
Auld saw an advertisement for the meal and decided to put his love of cooking to good use. He volunteered to help in the kitchen and by the end of the afternoon had been put in charge of the food.
Auld has cooked for large crowds at three other area churches and Prairie Camp.
“I just enjoy cooking for lots of people,” he said.
He has returned each year since to cook and enjoy the fellowship of the other volunteers.
“This program is wonderful,” he said.
Tom Drummond of Goshen said he and his wife Marilyn have volunteered to serve at the event for about five or six years. The couple is retired and their children live out of town.
“It helps,” Drummond said. “We really don't mind doing it and it's kind of fun.”
Lois and Kenneth Loucks of Goshen celebrated the holiday with family Christmas Eve and spent their Christmas afternoon enjoying the meal at First Presbyterian.
“It's delicious and it beats anything we would have at home,” Lois Loucks said. “It felt Christmassy to be here.”