How to Plan a Free Community Christmas Dinner

Previously published on Yahoo!
Tight times are prompting nonprofit organizations and churches to organize free community Christmas meals. Organizing free a meal is less challenging than it first appears. Breaking large tasks into small portions will help any church or nonprofit can host a community meal. This article can help any church or organization host a free community Christmas meal. Here is a guide to get you started.

Recruit team members.
Organizing the dinner can take anywhere from a few weeks to months. From the team leader to subcommittees the success of the event depends upon a committed team. The leader of the nonprofit or pastor should be on the team. Kitchen staff, greeters, communications, set-up, breakdown, clean-up and thank you volunteers are needed

Number of guests
Your team determines the number of adults and children who will be fed. Survey your area to determine both need and resources. The survey results will inform your decision on how many people to serve at the free community Christmas dinner.

After the survey the team will need to decide what date and time to hold the meal. Some groups decide to host it on Christmas day while other groups will prefer a different day.

The team will need to decide how members will be identified at the meal. Guests and staff will need to be readily identified at a glace. Santa hats or large stickers are often used.

Dinner details
Team members need to decide if the meal will be pot luck, catered or a combination. The group needs to determine if paper goods will be used at the free community Christmas dinner and decide who will obtain them.

The menu for the free meal often contains turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes (with or without gravy), green beans, rolls and dessert. It may also include ham, macaroni and cheese, a salad and sweet potatoes.

Many groups, but not all, like to have a traditional Christmas menu. When planning a free community Christmas dinner area traditions of the community must be considered. Food needs may vary by community.

Tickets or reservations
Free tickets can control the number of dinners offered. Tickets for the free Christmas meal can be distributed from the office of the church or nonprofit. Prevent fraudulent tickets by printing on bright card stock.

Reservations are an option to printed tickets. A church or organization phone is best for accepting reservations. Take the full name of caller, a phone number and the number of people who will be eating. Use this as a meal checklist later.

At this point the communication team members should swing into gear. Fliers about the free community meal can be posted in libraries, social service centers, laundromats and in storefront windows. Other possibilities are food pantries, hospitals, fire stations and police department chaplains.

Press releases need to be created and sent, fliers taken to schools and emails should be sent to local bloggers. Signage should be placed.

Set-up and Food preparation
The set-up and food team members should set up a day early. Place all tables, check and wash pots, decorate and evaluate kitchen supplies. Clearly mark all entrances, exits and bathrooms. Check bathrooms supplies the day before the free community Christmas dinner. Stock as necessary.

These team members will mark off names, greet guests as they arrive and direct people to serving lines and bathrooms. They are the first faces guests will see at the free community Christmas dinner.

Kitchen crew are responsible for the entire kitchen. They handle all kitchen details from food prep to conclusion.

Tear down
Volunteers who are involved in the tear down should arrive at least 30 minutes before the meal is to end. These team members will clear off and fold tables, sweep, mop, remove trash and be sure that everything is back in order. Help may be recruited from the dinner guests.

Thank you
Be sure to include donors, volunteers and representatives from other organizations or churches. Cards and letters should be sent to everyone who was involved with the free community Christmas meal. This important final step should not be overlooked.