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Free is key ingredient at Gateway Ministries community dinner

December 06, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

WILLIAMSPORT -- After other organizations started charging $6 to $7 per person for community holiday meals, Gateway Ministries decided it would provide one for free.

About three months ago, members of the local church along Kemps Mill Road started planning for the community dinner, said Shon Duty, evangelism and outreach director at the church.

The church, which has a food bank, paid for the food, and also received cash and food from other donors, Duty said.

It all came together Sunday when the church offered its "Setting the Table" meal in its large family life center. From 4 to 7 p.m., people were invited to feast on a total of 240 pounds of turkey, ham and corned beef, plus other dishes.

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"We just wanted to reach out to the community and show we cared," Duty said as people began streaming into the church Sunday afternoon.

A group of youths played music on a stage, one of several bands that were expected to perform during the dinner.

On a day when temperatures hovered around 34 degrees, the dinner also offered people some warmth.

Duty said the church decided to conduct a coat drive as part of the dinner, and more than 100 coats, some of them new, were brought to the dinner to be given away.

Church members spread the word about the dinner by hanging notices on doors of homes around the area, Duty said. Facilities like cold weather shelters and centers for abused individuals also were notified, Duty said.

Servers stood behind hot containers of food ready to serve the guests, and several tables were filled with desserts.

Church officials were preparing to feed 300 people; about 65 were seated at the beginning of the dinner.

"I think it's great," said Roger Neff, who was enjoying a meal at one of several long lines of tables in the center.

Neff said he lives in a senior citizens home on Otho Holland Drive and found out about the dinner through a notice that was left on his door.

Neff was sitting at the table with his sister and her son.

Sitting across from Neff was Paul A. Chaney of Clear Spring.

Chaney, who said he heard about the dinner from Neff, was impressed.

"I'm thinking about going to church here. It seems like it's pretty nice. They got a lot of things going on," Chaney said.

Virginia Bentz of Hagerstown and her son decided to attend the dinner after they found out about it through a newspaper announcement, Bentz's son said.

"It's nice to get out for the fellowship," Bentz's son said.

"We tried to give a donation, but they wouldn't take it," Bentz said.

Patricia Knapp said she also decided to come to the dinner after reading a newspaper announcement about it.

Knapp said it was nice not to have to prepare a holiday meal or pay for it.

"The way the economy is, you get what you can get," Knapp said.

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