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St. John church has been serving up Christmas dinner for many years
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A volunteer at a previous Christmas dinner at St. John’s First United Methodist Church ladles gravy as community members gather for a scratch made meal.

ST. JOHN — A group of community members in St. John has been cooking up a way to make sure no one feels lonely on Christmas for many years.  This year, they hope to see many old and many new faces around the table. 

The holidays can be a lonely time for many for a variety of reasons. Consider a Dec. 19 report by the New York Times reporter Maria Cramer,“Anybody need a grandma for Christmas?” One Tulsa, Okla., woman in her 50’s posted on the local Craigslist site the question, offering to cook Christmas dinner for and spend the day with a family as she had no one to spend it with. After responses from internet trolls caused her to remove her post, one young man was touched by the request and went out of his way to reach out and connect with the woman. His efforts were echoed by others who were likewise touched. According to sources in Cramer’s report, more are likely to feel disconnected in coming years as the population ages.  

On Dec. 10, Vic Martin, an instructor at Barton Community College, posted on his personal Facebook page an open invitation to attend a Christmas dinner prepared at the First United Methodist Church in St. John.  

“Are you wondering what to do for Christmas dinner? Maybe you just don’t want to eat alone or prepare a meal. Perhaps the idea of a good dinner and fellowship sounds appealing. Will you be in or near Stafford County on Christmas Day? If so, the First United Methodist Church, St. John Kansas invites you to the  Annual Christmas Dinner on Wednesday, Dec. 25 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.”

Having a big, public dinner on Christmas Day is not the norm, Martin admits. Still, there are a lot of people who otherwise would be alone on Christmas. Many travel on Thanksgiving because it’s a long weekend. Others can’t or simply don’t want to travel due to age, health or simply because, like the woman in the New York Times story, they have nowhere to go. 

“The dinner is free, a gift to the community,” Martin said.“It certainly seems more Christmas-y.”

It’s made possible due to the generosity of church members and the community. The first year, congregation members provided the meal, and ever since, an outpouring of donations has kept it going. The menu includes turkey, ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, fresh cranberries, hot vegetables, relish tray, rolls, dessert and drinks all prepared fresh in the church kitchen.

The church prepares food for 200. Everything is from scratch. They begin a few days prior, cooking turkeys and hams, and nothing is straight from a can, Martin said. Just like a big family dinner, because that is just what it is.  

The Stafford County Ministerial Alliance first started holding the dinner years ago. After a few years, First United Methodist Church, St. John began hosting it. People from other churches and communities help out too, Martin said. It’s not just for St. John and Stafford — anybody can come. 

“We’ve had people from Ellinwood, Claflin and Great Bend come,” he said. “It’s a good time to relax, schmooze and visit.”

Martin, his wife Pam and daughter Brenna have helped out with cooking the meal since the tradition was started. Now an adult, Brenna often drives back from Colorado in order to help with the dinner. 

The church isn’t hard to find, thanks to Martin’s directions. It is located just off of U.S. 281 at 807 E. 1st in St. John. Recognizing that other barriers may keep some from participating, volunteers have offered rides and meal delivery to those who are homebound.

“If you live in St. John and need a ride to the church or would like a meal delivered to your home please call the church office at 549-3896 and leave a message,” Martin wrote. 

Reservations are appreciated but not required. If you would like to let the church know you are coming, please use the same number.

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Friends share cleanup duties in the First United Methodist Church kitchen in St. John following a meal shared by around 150 people in the community at a previous Christmas dinner. - photo by Courtesy photo by Pam Martin