By Chad Frey

Newton Kansan

First Baptist Church is preparing a big party for Thanksgiving — expecting to serve hundreds of turkey or ham dinners.

"What's better than a holiday dedicated to eating," said Jacquie Wedel, administrative assistant for First Baptist.

The Community Thanksgiving Dinner will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at First Baptist Church, 200 W. Sixth. There is no ticket price, the meal is served free.

The church will throw open the doors Thursday for the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner — now in it's 18th year. The dinner returns to it's birthplace.

"It was an interesting brainchild," Wedel said. "Merril Nelson (former worship leader for the church) said we needed to offs something to people who don't have a family Thanksgiving."

In year one, about 75 people arrived. By the third year other churches got involved. This year First Baptist, Salem United Methodist, Grace Communty and Trinity Heights United Methodist are all involved.

The menu will include turkey, ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, corn, green beans, cranberries, sugar-free salad, rolls, pie, cake, coffee and tea.

Chip Bungard, pastor of First Baptist, is a bit concerned about seating every one — but said the church will use the sanctuary as a waiting area if needed and there is a plan in place to be sure everyone who comes Thursday will be served a Thanksgiving feast.

"I met with the planning committee during the summer, and they shared their heart with me," Bungard said. "I prayed, and I felt the Lord saying do it, that he would provide. … We don't have big spaces in the building. … We have a plan in place."

Roughtly half of the about 600 meals served last year we delivered to homes and workplaces — meaning about 300 came to Trinity Heights to sit for a meal.

Bungard remembers last year's meal — it was the first one he witnessed, and it made a lasting impression.

"I was overwhelmed with the passion, the way everyone came together for this," he said. "That really spoke to me."

What struck him is the event isn't only for those who may not be able to afford a big meal for Thanksgiving at home. It is for everyone.

"We had families come, the whole family had come to Newton and there wasn't space in mom and dad's house for everyone," Bungard said. "They came and ate together."

"It's the spirit of the event," Wedel added. "We have people that come from other communities to help with this because it is just fun."