WESTBROOK — Just before noon Sunday, Joy Knight stood on the stage in the fellowship hall at Westbrook-Warren Congregational Church and gave last-minute directions to her team of 75 volunteers.

Servers wearing aprons stood lined up behind a buffet table topped by empty warming trays.

Waiters stood by their tables, and two expediters were stationed at the door of the kitchen.

For five years running, the church’s free Christmas dinner has operated like a well-oiled machine.

Westbrook-Warren took over the event from the Westbrook United Methodist Church, on the other side of Main Street, when that church closed. Attendance at the meal has grown every year, said Knight, a member of the Congregational church.

There are no requirements limiting who can eat, and there are no RSVPs. So how many people does Knight prepare for?

“Everybody who comes,” she said. Last year, that was about 250 people. This year’s dinner served about 300, plus some “takeouts” for homebound people.

“It was a glorious day. Everyone had a wonderful time, both volunteers and those who attended,” Knight said.

Some, like Lillian Kennedy, are in it for the food. The feast includes three kinds of meat, potatoes, stuffing, peas and carrots, and an assortment of homemade pies.

“I couldn’t provide a meal like this for myself because I’m all alone,” said Kennedy, of Buxton.

Others come for the camaraderie.

Helen Anderson of Westbrook said it reminds her of the community dinners she attended while growing up. “It feels like a family,” she said.

Inside the hall, packed with people of all ages, it was hard to distinguish between those attending the meal and the volunteers.

Melissa Meserve’s family came four years ago for the meal, and ended up helping wash dishes at the end. The next year, they returned as volunteers.

“It’s our favorite part of Christmas now,” Meserve said.

On Sunday, 10-year-old Tanya Meserve was training 8-year-old Shelby Waite how to be a server — a job that includes refilling water glasses, replacing silverware and fetching dinner rolls.

It was Shelby’s first time helping out at the dinner, and she was hooked before it even started.

Asked if there was anything else she’d prefer to be doing on Christmas, she said, “I’d rather be here.”

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

[email protected]