By MAGGIE GEBHARDT
In the season of giving, several people in Hays are gathering to do just that on Christmas.
The sixth annual Community Christmas Dinner will be Christmas Day for the fifth consecutive year at the VFW Hall, 2106 Vine, Hays. Its first year, the event was celebrated at Hays' National Guard Armory.
"The vision of the Christmas Dinner is to provide an atmosphere where the community can gather together to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas -- the birth of Jesus," said Brittany Lang, Hays, dinner coordinator for three years.
Lang took over as dinner coordinator after spending time working as the volunteer coordinator. She helped with transportation, delivery and taking volunteer calls as she assisted the dinner coordinator.
"I really learned the ropes of the Christmas Dinner," she said.
"It's a great opportunity for the community to come together as one to celebrate the reason of Christmas. It's a blessing to be a part of it."
On Christmas Day, the first meal will begin at 11:15 a.m., and another will follow at 12:30 p.m.
The event is free and available for anyone who would like to sit and enjoy "a friendly, family atmosphere," Lang said.
"All are welcome to the dinner, regardless of personal beliefs," she said. "We sat around 600 people last year."
Oftentimes during the holiday season, it can be easy to become wrapped up in the busyness of Christmas time, the dinner coordinator said.
"The Christmas dinner helps put things back into perspective, while allowing the community to come together as one to fellowship and celebrate together," she said. "It's amazing to see how thankful everyone is."
Last year, Christmas cards were distributed to dinner attendees who wanted to write a "Christmas blessing" to those in assisted living and nursing homes, Lang said. More than 200 cards were delivered by volunteers within the Hays community. The same opportunity will also be provided at this year's event.
"Something as simple as a card to let someone know, 'I'm thinking of you,' can make all the difference," Lang said. "This allows the community to reach out to others. It's a way to pay it forward."
The dinner is not affiliated with a specific organization or church, but instead, made possible each year thanks to repeat volunteers and community donations.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars in Hays donate the venue for the meal, and the VFW men cook the Christmas dinner as well.
The food and additional expenses are covered through contributions collected before, during and after Christmas.
"I've had a lot of phone calls from people that are just thankful they have a place to go," said Dale Schmidt, VFW manager.
Community Christmas Dinner success can be directly linked to the men of VFW, volunteers and other community members.
"We do all the cooking," Schmidt said of the VFW men. "I will go in on Christmas Eve to start prepping so that by the time we get there at 5:30 a.m. on Christmas Day, everything is ready to roll."
"It's great that they let us be a part of it. Anything I can do for someone else gives me a lot of gratification. Christmas is about the best time to do something like that."
Volunteers are appreciated and still needed for the Community Christmas Dinner. Duties include distributing dessert, decorating, greeting guests, filling drinks, clearing tables, clean-up and more.
"The volunteers help in so many different ways," Lang said. "If they want to help, we will find something they enjoy or would like to be a part of."
To donate, volunteer or for additional information, contact Brittany Lang at (785) 259-3766 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.