The more the merrier at Christmas Dinner - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Hundreds turn out for Waterloo Christmas dinner

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

It's a holiday tradition three decades in the making -- the annual Christmas Day Dinner at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Waterloo.

"We just look forward to it every year," said long-time guest Chris Vaverka.

Some, like Vaverka, come each year for the food, the entertainment, and the conversation.

"It means a lot to us, because we don't have a whole lot," he said.

Others, like Shirley Dunlap, stopped by for the first time. Her kids are spending the holidays away from home, and she and her husband didn't want to dine alone.

"It's amazing, absolutely amazing. Lots of helpers, oh it's wonderful," she said of the experience.

The sense of fellowship is exactly what Bob and Judy Brown had in mind when they hosted their first Christmas Day Dinner in 1981.

"I just can't imagine being alone on Christmas Day. Eating by yourself. And I think that's why they come. Just to be with somebody else," Brown said.

The dinner is always free, and served by loyal volunteers. That includes Roosevelt Taylor, who has been helping out since the beginning.

"I've been here 29 years, I missed one, last year, because I had double pneumonia," he said.

Over the decades, they've only had to cancel once, and people are still talking about that missed meal.

"I was really disappointed the year they didn't have it," Vaverka noted.

The cancellation makes 2011 the 30th Christmas dinner served, and a record number of people were there to celebrate the holiday.

"I never thought this would be this big. I thought like, maybe half what we have now, or maybe a quarter," said sixth-grader Joelle Estrada.

Volunteers prepared about 800 dinners -- at least one hundred more than they served last year.

"272 take out, 400 and some eating in," said Brown. "So it's just unbelievable."

Brown already has visions of an even bigger dinner next year. His theory -- the more, the merrier, especially on Christmas.

"There's all kinds of stories come here on Christmas Day. You don't know what they're bringing with them. But if they can just get a little joy, why its worth every hour and money we put into it," Brown added.

The Brown are not sure if the economy is playing a role in their growing dinner guest list. They don't ask people why they're coming -- their only request is for people to call ahead, so there's enough food for everyone.

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