It started in 1960 with the placement of coffee and popcorn in the lobby of an area bank for any area resident to partake.

It started in 1960 with the placement of coffee and popcorn in the lobby of an area bank for any area resident to partake.

Today, it has grown to an annual event that serves free dinners to over 1,500 residents.

On Friday, Girard National Bank held its annual Christmas Eve community dinner to the delight of standing lines that wrapped around the bank building in downtown Girard.

“It marks a fun time of year because people come back to Girard for Christmas and they can share stories, see friends and enjoy food,” said bank President and CEO Mark Schifferdecker.

It was Schifferdecker’s grandfather Earl who started the tradition back in 1960. It grew from some popcorn and coffee, to 10 people spending the day in the basement of the bank building playing cards and just talking.

“They had a jug of wine and they’d spend the day playing cards and talking,” Mark Schifferdecker said. “It just blossomed into what it is today.”

The event, whether it was just popcorn, 10 people playing cards, or 1,500 people being served chicken, ham, and fixings, has always been in Christmas Eve. The only times it is not on the day before Christmas is if that day is a Sunday. Then, it is on the day before.

Girard resident Rosemary O’Toole’s husband Frank was one of the original 10 invited by Earl Schifferdecker. She has been coming to the annual event since it was open to the public in the mid-60s.

“I can’t believe how much its grown,” O’Toole said. “My grandchildren will actually get to enjoy this when they come down from Kansas City and eat.”

Among the people who braved cold temperatures and rainy conditions was someone who was spending her first Christmas in America.

Pittsburg State University visiting professor Debora Duan has been in the country from her native China and took in her first Christmas dinner in Girard.

“I really like the atmosphere here,” Duan said. “It’s very festive and it really feels like home ... that’s the spirit of Christmas.”

O’Toole said that, for her, it is a great opportunity to see people and just talk about the year gone by.

“It’s festive and everyone is happy,” O’Toole said. “Being with people you know is great.”

That is exactly what Mark Schifferdecker said his grandfather wanted the event to become.

“The people really keep this going,” Mark Schifferdecker said. “We just love the goodwill and visiting with people to show just how much we appreciate them.

“This is what living in a small community is all about.”

Matthew Clark can be reached at matthew.clark@morningsun.net or at 620-231-2600, Ext. 140