Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
WASHINGTON — Leaders at the Washington First Assembly of God Church are planning their biggest Christmas dinner yet in an effort to make the holiday special for those in need.
Pastor David Watson said the meal at the church from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Dec. 25 was free to anyone that calls ahead to register.
“This year we’re expecting around 400 people … we’re looking forward to that, the atmosphere’s always great,” he said. “It’s a warm environment, a fellowship with music. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of families together, just helping people enjoy Christmas.”
For the volunteers and church staff involved, Watson said the event was a point of pride.
“For us it’s really doing what Christ would do, which would be: if there’s anybody that’s hungry, feed them,” he said. “If there’s anybody that’s needing, give them something.”
Church Secretary Connie Emry said the dinner was meant for people in need.
“It reaches the disabled, the elderly, the handicapped, the unfortunate, the homeless,” she said. “What makes it awesome is the fact that the community provides the meal … the whole community comes together to support the community.”
While it’s less of a concern than last year, the pandemic still casts a shadow over this year’s meal. Watson said the church had three meal options to accommodate health concerns.
“We do a dine-in option, and we also do a carryout option, if somebody wants to come up and say, ‘We’d like to have one to go,’” he said. “And then we also do a delivery option for the people that can’t get out. We serve a lot of different individuals, some that they just can’t make the trip over.”
Watson said it took a village to coordinate the dinners from year to year.
“The first of November we start planning, getting information out and trying to find local businesses that want to help the community and sponsor that,” he said. “We’ve got a great leadership team here in the church that takes the different prongs of that, volunteers, food, all those different things and works together to pull it off. Every year it just never ceases to amaze me.”
With enough community support, Watson said the goal was to run the dinner entirely through unconditional support.
“It’s expensive to feed 400 people, we try our best to operate at a zero-cost but still give a high quality meal and give the community something to look forward to,” he said. “A lot of times this time of year, around Christmastime is the most mentally taxing time of year … we’ll have a lot of people come in for the first time, maybe they’ll bring someone with them and they’ll sit and socialize with one another and just make Christmas special, the way it should be.”
While it can be challenging to provide for that many people, Watson said the group was aiming high after getting nearly overwhelmed last year.
“Our goal is to never turn anybody away,” Watson said. “We had a different (phone) line last year that was just a reservation line, and we had to turn that one off because we hit the number that we thought we would but then it kept growing … thankfully we didn’t have to turn anybody away.”