News Local/State

Everyone Welcome At Christmas Day Dinners In Champaign & Hoopeston


Volunteers in Champaign-Urbana and Hoopeston are gearing up to serve free dinners on Christmas Day, to anyone who wants to come. Both events are asking people to make their reservations by Thursday.

In Hoopeston, the idea for serving the dinner came five years ago to Susan Boyden Comstock and Jill Penicook, two women of different generations. Comstock, whose family members live elsewhere, said she never minded being alone on Christmas herself.

“But I thought, there’s a lot of people that don’t have any place to go or don’t have family, and I thought this would be a great thing to do”, said Comstock, who launched the annual dinner with Penicook, a friend of her daughter’s. The annual dinner now involves dozens of volunteers, some of whom will start their Christmas Day preparations at 6 A.M.

The Hoopeston Christmas dinner began in 2012. Two years earlier, Lynne Barnes was inspired to launch a similar dinner when she read about a 2009 community Christmas dinner in Ridge Farm.  She started asking around to see if anyone else was interested in putting on a similar dinner in Champaign-Urbana.

“I was actually surprised, because I thought it would be hard to get people to consider this on Christmas Day”, said Barnes. “But on the day, we use over 200 volunteers. And volunteer slots fill up in about 2 and a half weeks. It’s incredible. The support from the community and the interest in serving is phenomenal.”

Dinners Served Promptly At 1 P.M.

Both dinners will take place about the same time on Sunday, December 25th.  In Champaign-Urbana, a ham dinner will be served, beginning with appetizers at 12:30 P.M. and dinner at 1 P.M. at First Christian Church of Champaign, 3601 South Staley Road. Jim Turpin, the host of “Penny For Your Thoughts” on WDWS Radio, will serve as the master of ceremonies.

In Hoopeston, turkey dinners (with some ham dinners available as an alternative) will be served from 1 to 3 P.M. at the Multi-Agency Service Center, 206 South 1st Avenue. This year, volunteers at the Hoopeston Christmas dinner will be delivering meals to residents in the Hoopeston and Rossville area who can’t attend in person.

The food is donated by local businesses and other institutions. The ham for the Champaign-Urbana dinner is provided by the Carle Foundation, where Barnes is an administrator. In Hoopeston, the local IGA supermarket donates the turkey. The Hoopeston Christmas dinner is noted for the variety of desserts, all donated by community members. Comstock says they welcome desserts from everybody. They’re typically brought to the Multi-Agency center on Christmas morning, as volunteers prepare for the festivities.

“Most people know each other”, said Comstock about the annual Christmas dinner. “This is a small area.  So everybody knows somebody, and if they don’t, they meet them. The atmosphere is just real light and everybody’s full when they leave.  And that’s our goal, that they have fellowship and fun and eat hearty. And we can always use desserts.”

For Lynne Barnes, the annual dinner is valuable for the fellowship it provides for both guests and volunteers --- and the example it provides.

“My grandchildren, I like them to kind of grow up on Christmas Day serving as opposed to getting”, said Barnes. “Because there’s a lot of getting and receiving that goes on Christmas Day for children, and that’s all good. But it’s awfully nice, also to be able to share the true meaning of Christmas, which is one of giving.”

Barnes is expecting more than 400 to attend this year’s Christmas dinner at First Christian Church. Susan Boyden Comstock says the Hoopeston Christmas dinner served about 230 meals last year.

Reservations Requested By Thursday

To make reservations for the Hoopeston Christmas dinner, contact the Multi-Agency Service Center no later than Thursday, at 217-283-5544, or organizers Susan Boyden Comstock (217-495-1620) and Jill Penicook (815-341-8541).

To reserve a seat at the Champaign-Urbana Christmas dinner,  call or text 217-369-4865 or email no later than Thursday. Guests are asked to provide their name, daytime phone number, number of guests attending and whether any are under 12 (they’ll receive a small gift). Limited transportation to the dinner is available from five pick-up spots, and guests should state if they wish a ride, and which pick-up spot they’ll use: Sunnycrest Manor, Steer Place, Illinois Terminal, Round Barn Manor or Restoration Urban Ministries.