This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

On Christmas day this year, around the time that kids start settling down from the early morning frenzy and families start hitting the road, volunteers will gather in Hudson to serve a Christmas lunch to more than 1,000 people who otherwise might have spent the day alone.

Don and Happy Austin floated the idea five years ago to their Sunday School class at First Baptist Church of Hudson. It was a simple concept: Offer a free Christmas meal to anyone who needs it, and deliver the same meal to people who can’t make it to the church.Since then, the meal has continued to grow – serving more than 1,000 people in 2012, compared to 250 in 2009. This year, the church is preparing to serve 1,200 meals.

The meal serves those who are in need of food, of course, but it’s also for anyone else who might need Christmas plans – from the sheriff’s deputy and others who have to work on Christmas to the single with far-flung family who doesn’t feel like cooking (or eating waffles). There are no questions asked, Happy Austin said.

“No one should be alone on Christmas,” Don Austin said. “That’s what we’re hoping to eliminate as much as possible.”

Preparations for this year’s meal started just a few weeks after the last plates were cleared in 2012. It will all come together on Christmas day, as more than 100 volunteers serve food in the church’s Christian Life Center or drive out in pairs to deliver meals to everyone from shut-ins to prisoners to hospice patients and nurses.

Everyone gets ham, a little turkey, candied sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, cranberry sauce, deviled eggs, dessert, rolls and beverages – a menu designed to work in-house as well as it does in delivery containers. All of the funding comes from donations – it’s not part of the church’s regular budget.

Other churches in the county offer Christmas meals as well. The folks at First Baptist are all for it – they “don’t have a monopoly,” Don Austin said, and there’s plenty of need.

“Obviously, if we’re serving 1,000 and they’re serving a good-sized number as well, there is a great-sized need in the community,” Happy Austin said.

To arrange transportation to First Baptist Church of Hudson or to arrange to have a meal delivered, call George Kirby at 828-728-9325, the church office at 828-728-4297 or Genera Woods at 828-750-5110. For any other information, call Don Austin at 828-728-9383. Volunteers are welcome as well. The church will accept delivery requests until Christmas Eve, but calling earlier is better.