A Franklin church kitchen is stuffed with hundreds of pounds of food, including hams, green beans, salad, potatoes and desserts.

In the days leading up to a 900-person free Christmas dinner, dozens of volunteers were prepped on how to get residents through food serving lines and keep the dishes full on Christmas night. Seven years ago, members of Grace United Methodist Church decided to open their kitchen for Johnson County residents who didn’t have anyone to celebrate Christmas with or who needed a warm meal on the holiday. In the first year, fewer than 100 people showed up.

Now, church officials said they expect 250 meals will be picked up, another 350 dinners will be delivered, and the rest will be served to people who come to the church to dine. Volunteers have learned ways to lessen the chaos of serving a holiday meal to hundreds of people within just a few hours.

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“That first year, we didn’t have hardly anybody. If I sent out 50 meals, that was a lot,” said volunteer Bill Frosch of Franklin.

Frosch now coordinates the meal deliveries on Christmas day. He prints maps and creates spreadsheets with names, phone numbers and addresses for all 350 meals that will be delivered to Johnson County residents. He designs delivery routes, creates contact lists and determines how many boxes of food each driver can handle.

Frosch met with his 22 delivery volunteers this week to go over the plan for the big event: Show up to the church about 11 a.m., pack up the vehicles and discuss what to do if a family doesn’t answer the door or can’t be reached, Frosch said.

Although the church is located in Franklin, deliveries are scheduled throughout the county, as far west as State Road 37 and as far north as County Line Road, Frosch said.

If a driver is heading to Greenwood or Bargersville to deliver food, he doesn’t want to bog down the vehicle with too many boxes and risk the food getting cold, Frosch said. But drivers who will deliver food to Franklin homes can handle more boxes since they have a shorter distance to drive, he said.

The church used to have deliveries, carry-out meals and residents dining in all at the same time, according to Pastor Andy Kinsey. But volunteers realized they could space the meals throughout Christmas day, allowing a more streamlined process, he said.

“We’ve learned the hard way,” Kinsey said.

Deliveries will be sent out from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., then residents can pick up carry-out meals from 1:30 to 4 p.m., Kinsey said. That way, the church is restocked and prepared for serving the remaining 300 or so people who dine at the church from 5 to 7 p.m., he said.

Volunteers are split into four shifts, with about 70 people signed up to serve throughout the day, Kinsey said. The head chef for the event, Doug Rather, will start his duties at 5:30 a.m. Christmas morning.

Another 30 to 40 church members are baking desserts such as pies and brownies to feed hundreds.

“We have certain families where this has become a tradition,” Kinsey said. “They enjoy it very much, and this is what they look forward to.”

Franklin resident Jane Hughey has volunteered for every Christmas meal except one. She sets plans with family and friends earlier in the day but loves to end her Christmas by serving at the church, she said. Last year, she volunteered at the dessert station and saw people requested more pie. This year, she’s making two fruit pies for the cause, she said.

“We have learned as we go, and I’m sure we’ll learn something this year,” Hughey said. “The thing I notice when I work is there’s such a great sense of camaraderie and fellowship. Everyone is truly in the Christmas spirit of service.”

How to Help

Grace United Methodist Church is accepting donations of desserts for Christmas dinner Friday:

What: Residents can still donate a dessert, such as cookies, cakes, pies or brownies for the meal.

Where: Grace United Methodist Church, 1300 E. Adams Drive, Franklin

When: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and Friday

Want to eat? While the carry-out and delivery orders are closed for this year, everyone is welcome to dine in from 5 to 7 p.m.