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Christmas Comes To Champaign, But Without Annual Community Dinner

Lynne Barnes, organizer of Champaign's Community Christmas Dinner.

The annual Community Christmas Dinner in Champaign will not be held this year. But it wasn’t the coronavirus that canceled it.

No doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic would have canceled the event, which served a free Christmas Day dinner to hundreds of guests at Champaign’s First Christian Church. But organizer Lynne Barnes says they had announced last year that the dinner would not be continuing.

“For our family we thought, you know what, we’ve done this for ten years,” says Barnes, Chief Operating Officer at Urbana’s Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle’s Senior Vice President for Facilities. “Maybe it’s time to do something different on Christmas Day. And I think all of our volunteer leaders felt the same way. Again, great experience, glad we did it, but felt like ten years was a good run.”

The Community Christmas Dinner is not connected to Carle, where Barnes has spent her career. Instead, it is a personal project. She launched it in 2010 as a way to bring people together on Christmas Day, modeling it after a similar community dinner in the Vermilion County town of Ridge Farm.

“It provided an opportunity for people who just might have been lonely on Christmas Day, to be with a fun group of people, and just enjoy and appreciate the holiday and being with other individuals,” says Barnes.

The Community Christmas Dinner served a traditional holiday meal to its guests. Barnes says they initially offered turkey, but later switched to ham, which was more manageable for a large event. The dinner grew to involve about 200 volunteers serving about 400 people each year.

Barnes says the dinner could possibly resume in the future, under new leadership.

“I think we did have some people talk with us about, maybe if they could pick up the mantle and go ahead with it,” says Barnes. “And that could occur. Or you just never know what ideas might crop up and bubble up, from all the good people we have living here.”

For anyone who wants to revive the Community Christmas Dinner, or a project of similar scope, Barnes has this advice: “Be sure to pull together a handful of key leaders who are just as passionate as you are about the idea. And boy, when you got that, you can get anything done.”

Picture of Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows has been covering local news for WILL Radio since 2000, with occasional periods as local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered and a stint hosting WILL's old Focus talk show. He was previously a reporter at public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

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