On Christmas Day, George Libby and his family will be waking up early, but not to open presents.
Instead, they'll spend their day contributing to an effort to deliver more than 400 dinners to people who would otherwise spend Christmas alone, or without a nice meal. The reason they will do it is simple.
"This is Christmas," said Mr. Libby, who lives in Bethel Park. "If we didn't do this, Christmas wouldn't be the same."
It's a family tradition, but also a community one.
The First Presbyterian Church of Castle Shannon, working with volunteers from Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church of Dormont and Mt. Lebanon United Methodist Church, as well as others from Jewish community groups, organizes a ham dinner each year, part of a "ministry outreach" now marking its 26th year, said its pastor, the Rev. J. Scott Shetter.
"It started by seeing a need," he said.
More than two decades ago, Mr. Libby, an elder at First Presbyterian, noticed the need after he and his wife spent a few years volunteering with Bethany Evangelical, which holds a Thanksgiving meal for people who are alone, unable to leave their homes or cannot afford a meal for their family.
A small group of people at First Presbyterian, including the Libbys, decided to imitate the Bethany Church model and start their own Christmas Day dinner, so that fewer people would be alone or without a nice meal for that holiday.
The idea became a tradition and has been continuing ever since. This year, organizers expect to serve more than 400 people a dinner of ham, seasoned potatoes, glazed yams, green beans, coleslaw, applesauce, a bread roll and a piece of pie. Preparation for the dinner, which takes place mostly in a kitchen within the church building, begins a few days prior to Christmas and involves about 20 people.
"It's what the church is called to do, to feed the hungry," said Robert Stokes, who coordinates the dinner.
There are some who come to the church to eat their dinner and socialize. But most of the people who are served ask that their Christmas dinner be delivered, sometimes because they are elderly, other times because they do not have a vehicle or have a medical condition that makes it difficult to travel.
The organizers recruit "an army of volunteers," Rev. Shetter said, with about 25 teams of people driving to strangers' homes on Christmas Day to deliver meals. Sometimes, the meals are delivered to young families who cannot afford a nice meal, Mr. Libby said. Other meals are delivered to young single mothers or to older people without family.
"It's across the board," he said.
The reception to the meals can vary, Mr. Libby said.
"Some people are afraid of strangers, and they want you to hand the meal through the cracked door," he said. "Others, we will go in and spend 20 minutes with them, just getting to know them, praying for them."
Everyone, Mr. Libby said, is extremely grateful.
The church tradition because its members and others in the community want those who might go without to have a meal and companionship on Christmas Day, Rev. Shetter said.
"We don't want people to have that feeling of being left alone," he said. "It's about sharing joy and love with everyone."
Christmas dinner will be served from 1 to 4 p.m. on Christmas Day in the social hall of First Presbyterian Church of Castle Shannon, at 3636 Poplar Ave. People who plan to eat their dinner in the church do not need to RSVP, but those who would like to have a Christmas dinner delivered should contact the church before the close of business today by calling 412-561-0401.
Kaitlynn Riely: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1707.