The dining room at St. Peter’s is packed for the holiday meal. By Maddy VitaleHelen and Don Mullen had no other place they would rather be Christmas Day than serving up delicious food to hundreds of people at St. Peter’s United Methodist Church in Ocean City.The couple, who live in Upper Township, don’t have family nearby and for the last 10 years have been volunteering to help hosts Mike and Peaches Lukens during their Community Christmas Dinner at the church.“It’s our Christmas,” Helen Mullen said as her husband brought her a new tray of food from the kitchen window to replace a near empty one. “We’ve been doing the dinner for 18 years and we love it.”The Mullens joined more than 70 volunteers in the community dinner at the church located at 8th Street and Central Avenue.Don Mullen, of Upper Township, and his wife, Helen, love volunteering for the dinner.The dinner is in its 29th year. The tradition has created friendships, offered a place to spend a holiday when a person may otherwise have been alone and has fed families who are in need.People lined up at the food station for generous servings of mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, peas and other sides to go with generous slices of turkey and ham. Later, for dessert, was an array of sweets and a table filled with all types of cookies, cakes and pies.Don and Marty Quinn, of Ocean City, have been volunteering at the dinner for about 13 years. “It’s about giving back,” Don Quinn said.Like the Mullens, the Quinns had similar feelings about offering their help on Christmas Day.“We love it. It is the best part of Christmas,” Marty Quinn said.John Quinn, of Ocean City, and his wife Marty, alongside him, say volunteering for the dinner is their favorite part of Christmas.Volunteering alongside the Quinns were Verna and Richard Garrish. They said they enjoy helping out and this is their third year.By noon, dinner co-host Peaches Lukens estimated there were easily hundreds of people who entered the church dining hall to enjoy a Christmas meal.Although the dinner began at 11 a.m., she said people started coming as early as 9 a.m. “People want somewhere to go,” she said, adding that the spirit of giving is what the day is about.Lukens hopes to continue to organize the dinner for many more years to come, she said.Her plan is that when she and her husband decide to hand the torch off, it will be to their daughter, Halley Martinez, who is already a big part of running the event, she noted.Mariann Baltrusaitis, of West Chester, Pa., scoops some veggies out for a guest picking up a takeout order.Diners walked with filled plates to their seats at decorated tables with festive centerpieces. Balloons also added to the holiday atmosphere. A performer played the harmonica in the background, while Christmas music filled the dining hall.Mariann Baltrusaitis, of West Chester, Pa., vacations in Ocean City and has been volunteering with the dinner since 2010. She was helping with the delivery line. She said it gives her a good feeling to help out and said that her friends got her involved in the tradition.Peaches Lukens said they hope to increase the number of food deliveries to people who are unable to attend the dinner. By the early afternoon, she said, there were already more deliveries than in previous years.Ocean City Councilman Keith Hartzell volunteers every year with other active members of the community.Hartzell, along with American Legion Morvay-Miley Post 524 member Jerry Bonner were busy in the line pouring sodas.“The American Legion supplies some volunteers to help today because we are so lucky for what we have,” said Bonner, a retired lieutenant in the Philadelphia Fire Department. “All people should be happy and have a place to go on Christmas.”For more information about volunteering for next year’s dinner, call Mike Lukens at 609-892-3482.
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