One year, 740 people came to the free Community Christmas Dinner at the Hays VFW Post 9076. Another year, it was 900.

But figuring out how many to cook for isn’t a problem, reassured Dale Schmidt, VFW manager, who supervises food prep and cooking for the annual banquet that feeds hundreds on Christmas Day. There will be plenty, Schmidt said.

“I’ve been up here a lot of years and I’ve never run out of food yet,” he said Thursday. “I’m not about to start now.”

Work at the VFW was set to begin Friday, starting with cutting up and seasoning 400 pounds of beef that will be roasted and served. The volunteer cooks in the VFW kitchen will also fix 14 15-pound hams, along with mashed potatoes, dressing, green beans and corn.

“We don’t like doing it all in one day,” Schmidt said, noting the crew that prepares the food have it down to a fine art. “There’s a group of 10 of us in the kitchen. It’s usually the same guys doing it. We all have our jobs down, so it runs like clockwork.”

Doors open at 10 a.m. on Christmas Day for the 10th Annual Community Christmas Dinner at 2106 Vine.

Serving starts at 11 a.m. and goes until 1 p.m., said Brittany Lang, dinner coordinator and a member of New Life Center, 1701 E. 22nd, one of many churches that help with the dinner.

“We have a steady flow coming in and then leaving,” she said. “We start serving one area and work our way to the other. We’ve never reached capacity and have no trouble seating people.”

This year 100 people have already signed up to have their meal delivered.

The VFW donates its hall and the food, and volunteers from the post do the cooking. About 70 additional community volunteers are needed to help set up, serve, deliver meals, direct traffic and clean up. Currently there are 40 signed up, Lang said.

“We are needing volunteers,” she said. “Every year we have just enough.”

While the meal is free, donations at the door are welcome.

“We give a donation to the VFW,” she said, adding that any money left over with be donated some place in the community where there is need. The meal is all about the spirit of Christmas, she said.

“It’s offering an opportunity for the community to come together and focus on the true meaning of why we celebrate Christmas,” Lang said, “People can feel love, and they can feel peace when they walk in the door.”

While some of the food is donated to the VFW, Schmidt said proceeds from their events throughout the year help pay the food costs for the dinner: Taco Tuesday, Burger Thursday, and many wedding and funeral dinners, which are the VFW’s bread and butter, he said.

“Through the year we bust a little butt up here,” Schmidt said. “You gotta give back to the community. Everybody feels good doing it.”

Anyone wishing to volunteer or donate desserts, which are needed, may call (785) 259-9735.