Families crowded into Henderson’s Family Restaurant in downtown Killeen to enjoy a free hot holiday meal Wednesday afternoon.

Henderson’s has hosted the Christmas dinner for more than 15 years. It’s a tradition that began with the restaurant’s namesake, Jerry Henderson, and has continued since his death three years ago.

Lifeway Fellowship Church teams up with the restaurant to assist. The church provides volunteers to serve the meal alongside the restaurant’s staff and hands out brown bag donations to those in need.

The bags include children’s toys for all ages, blankets, hats and scarves, along with nonperishable food items.

The first year, there were fewer than 100 people, said volunteer Robin Mather. Now, they provide items to nearly 500.

“Volunteers come and give up their Christmas Day ... to help those less fortunate than us,” she said. “It’s a blessing to spend Christmas Day giving back to others.”

Mather and her husband made holiday volunteering a regular tradition.

“We want to make the day a special day,” she said. “This is part of being a community and working together.”

The Mather family has their Christmas the Sunday before Dec. 25 each year.

It was Virginia Irwin’s second year assisting with the holiday celebration.

“It’s a way of sharing the love of Jesus Christ with others,” she said of spending her day handing out tickets for gift bags.

Her son served dinner to customers who lined up out the restaurant door for the meal. Henderson’s prepared for up to 500 attendees. Two hundred people were served in the first 50 minutes, according to Henderson’s staff.

“There are so many in our community in need,” Bobby Mather said. “It’s a blessing to be able to help someone.”

Tom Karpinski, senior manager, has worked at Henderson’s for more than 30 years.

As to why he spends each Christmas at the event, the reason is simple.

“I like taking care of people when they need it. I’ve been down that road. It’s about helping people,” Karpinski said.

Contact Madison Lozano​ at mlozano@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7552.

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