GREENVILLE — When Charles Dickens published his famous holiday classic novella, A Christmas Carol, in 1843, who would have thought that 177 years later, how much we might learn from that simple, well-crafted tale of the transformed human heart.
Who could forget Ebenezer Scrooge, described by Dickens at the beginning of the story, as “hard and sharp as flint,” who becomes, by the story’s end, “as good a man, as the good old city knew…in the good old world.” Scrooge’s journey to discover what truly matters in life mirrors our own, as we face an uncertain future.
Keeping the spirit of Christmas well and alive 365 days a year is a daunting task, especially today; yet, there are those among us who have endeavored to do so by their kindness and generosity shown in both word and deed. Greenville’s Radiant Lighthouse, located at 5256 Sebring Warner Road, has been this beacon of hope and joy; and for nearly four decades, the annual Christmas Community Dinner has taught us that time well-spent among friends and family is one of the most cherished gifts of the season.
The annual Christmas Community Dinner, founded by Barbara and Hershel Fee in 1981, has been a true inspiration and labor of love, even from its earliest beginnings.
“For 38 years I’ve known nothing on Christmas Day other than the Community Christmas Dinner,” said their son, Eric Fee. “From the first day, Mom starts planning, buying gifts, buying food when it’s on sale, door prizes and donations — Mom did it all. Then her and my father would go in early every Christmas and start cooking for hundreds of people. This was her dream, to help people.”
Barbara Fee, who recently passed away in November, always had a heart and a smile for those in the community who were in need of companionship and fellowship around the holidays. Most especially, Barbara would share her faith and encourage others to believe that with God, all things are possible, and one is never alone.
“She would make stickers every year for the ‘to go’ boxes, and they’d have scripture verses on them, like ‘John 3:16’ and many many more, that would remind people to turn to Christ,” said Eric, adding, “My mother read her Bible every day! She loved to read it over and over.”
This annual dinner, celebrated every Dec. 25 in Greenville, has grown both in size and outreach over time, with the help of many volunteers and community partnerships.
“At Radiant Lighthouse, we believe that we are ‘Better Together’,” said Wes Lynch, Co-Pastor of the Radiant Lighthouse. “We believe in putting that into action. So the Annual Community Christmas dinner truly shows this.”
Throughout the years, the Radiant Lighthouse has been able to expand and grow the dinner with the support of many community partners, including EB Real Estate, David and Pam Furlong of Fitzwater Lawn and Tree Service, Tribute Funeral Home, Steve Beam, Brody Tarter with Remax, Hydrojet Signs, Wieland Jewelers, the Bankson family, Aaron and Betsy Ward of A &B Coffee, Teafords Pizza, The Whistle Stop, the Riffle family, the Billenstein family, Al and Lyn Bliss, Marty and Connie McCabe, David and Becca Leensvaart, Tim and Leslie Gunckel, Trent and Anna May, Jim Buchy, Second National Bank, Oakley Place, SRL Insurance-Arcanum, Creative Carpet, The Village Green, G & G Floor Fashions, State of the Heart, Bill Coomer and Aesthetic Finishers, Eikenberry IGA, and Rural King, among numerous others.
Community partners Montage and The Merchant House give of their time and talents to prepare and provide fresh meals for everyone in attendance. This year, the Radiant Lighthouse expects to increase its outreach, serving between 750 to 1,000 families. While registration is encouraged via the church’s website to help estimate the number of people in attendance, everyone in the community is invited, and there is no cost.
Although COVID-19 has caused many cancellations this holiday season, the Radiant Lighthouse members were determined to continue this beloved Greenville festive tradition by making a few adjustments to the celebration.
“This will be the first year we will set up a ‘Drive-Thru’ experience,” said Pastor Wes, noting, “With our partners at Wolf Awning and Tent, we will provide all vehicles a large tent to drive through, so families can obtain their free meal and toys for each child, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.”
With so many changes this season, it will be hard to imagine the Community Christmas Dinner without its founder, Barbara Fee, greeting those in attendance with her warm and generous smile. Yet, her legacy continues in the outpouring of good will to the community that she loved.
“Remember to help one another and just do whatever you can,” said Eric Fee, adding, “My mother gave of herself and would make sure no one went without. Remember her by helping someone this Christmas.”
In borrowing words of Dicken’s Tiny Tim, let us endeavor to keep the spirit of this blessed season in the coming year: A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!
To learn more about the 39th Annual Community Christmas Dinner, check out the Community Christmas Dinner Facebook page, or visit the Radiant Lighthouse online at www.radiantchurchgreenville.com. Questions? Call Pastor Wes Lynch or Pastor Hershel Fee at 937-504-6721, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Carol Marsh covers community interest stories and handles obituaries for Darke County Media. She can be contacted by email at email@example.com or by phone at 937-569-4314.