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Franklin congregation prepares to serve hundreds of meals

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Volunteer Bill Frosch searches a Johnson County map as he sorts addresses of people receiving free meals from Grace United Methodist Church. Volunteers will deliver meals on Christmas Day. 
Volunteer Bill Frosch searches a Johnson County map as he sorts addresses of people receiving free meals from Grace United Methodist Church. Volunteers will deliver meals on Christmas Day. PHOTO BY SCOTT ROBERSON

For two Franklin families, a community Christmas dinner has become their own family tradition.

Franklin resident Bill Frosch used to find himself alone on Christmas Day because his grandchildren go elsewhere for the holiday. Now, he spends the holiday helping his community.

Shelly Pietras and her daughters have volunteered at the dinner since the girls were 4 and 8 years old. They join dozens of other volunteers, often more than are needed, to organize the feast.

Grace United Methodist Church in Franklin started providing a Christmas meal for local residents four years ago, and Pietras said the church always has more than enough members willing to give up their holiday to help out. One of those volunteers is Frosch.

If you go

What: Free Christmas dinner for all Johnson County residents.

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

When: Dine at the church between

4 and 5:30 p.m. Christmas Day. Deliveries will take place from 1 to 3 p.m., and residents can pick up food for take-out between 3 and 4 p.m. The church no longer is accepting delivery requests.

How to get there: Residents who do not have transportation can call 736-7962 on Christmas Day. The church will have an Access Johnson County bus pick residents up.

“I didn’t have that much going on, so when they asked for volunteers, I said I can do that. Now it’s a tradition,” he said.

This year, Pastor Andy Kinsey said the church will serve more than 700 dine-in, carry-out and delivery meals, which are served, cooked and delivered by volunteers. While most of the volunteers are church members, others are county residents who heard about the event and came to help out, Kinsey said.

Since 2008, the event’s first year, the need for volunteers has grown. That year, the Franklin church fed about 100 people; last year, volunteers cooked for at least 600.

The church started the event with the intention of providing hot meals for families who couldn’t afford to make them or for people who would be alone on the holiday, Pietras said. But the meal has grown from helping needy families to a communitywide event, and anyone can order the food or enjoy a meal of ham, mashed potatoes and green beans at the church, regardless of their income or circumstances.

In 2008, Pietras, Kinsey and other members of the church attended a Thanksgiving meal meant for families who couldn’t afford to cook one themselves. Pietras said that, after the meal, they wondered where the people who needed help on Thanksgiving could receive a meal on Christmas. That year, they spent the next month putting together the church’s first Christmas dinner, Pietras said.

Now, members of the church start planning the meal in September, trying to get everything ready, Pietras said.

Frosch said he thinks more families are coming to the dinner as the church gets the word out and more people know about it. He has volunteered for the event since it started and took on leading the deliveries two years ago.

Pietras said volunteering has become a tradition for her family. Earlier this year, Pietras asked her daughters if they wanted to take a year off from volunteering. Both adamantly said no.

The girls, now 9 and 12, have volunteered at the event each year, taking salad dressing bottles to tables and helping get drinks for dine-in customers. This year, they’re working the dessert cart.

“It’s a blast. We’re over there just having fun, and the kids enjoy it. Everybody feels like they’ve got to do something to help someone else,” Pietras said.

Pietras and Frosch have seen the yearly dinner grow and become more organized.

“We think we’ve thought everything through,” Pietras said. “But we’re not restaurant people, so we don’t think of everything. We’re getting pretty close at this point.”

Volunteers have learned how to work smarter and faster. The first year Frosch coordinated deliveries, he didn’t create delivery routes for the drivers, and they didn’t get residents’ phone numbers. If drivers got lost or if the residents had moved, drivers wouldn’t know how to find families. At least four homes were empty when delivery drivers got there because the residents had moved since they signed up for the food. At one home, a neighbor said the residents had been gone for a while, and the driver gave them the food instead.

Last year, Frosch began mapping out the county and having drivers take meals to certain areas. For example, one driver goes to Greenwood and another to Bargersville. He also had residents provide their phone numbers, so drivers could contact them if needed.

This year, the church has made the routes even easier to map by using a computer program to enter information for about 300 planned deliveries.

Frosch said separating the deliveries into routes has allowed drivers to head to each destination more quickly.

In addition, the church has changed this year’s menu slightly to help with deliveries, offering only one meat choice this year instead of two, Pietras said. The church usually cooks ham and meatloaf, but the volunteers decided to provide just ham this year to make the meals simpler.

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