By Kerry Longobucco.

An Owego church is keeping bellies full, and spirits bright, this holiday by welcoming in hundreds for its annual Christmas dinner.

Volunteers at the Owego United Methodist Church make it their mission to keep the community well fed each Christmas. It's a Tioga County tradition nine years in the making.

"That's what we try to do, is make you feel like you are a member of ours. it's not just for those that are destitute, or are looking for a hot meal," Melody Patterson, event organizer at Owego United Methodist Church, said.

The planning process spans several months. Come Christmas Eve day, volunteers had their hands full getting ready for the festivities. On Thursday, turkeys were already in the oven, and presents were being wrapped.

Veteran Lee Dunham cooked for the troops during his time in the service. He's been using those skills to prepare this Christmas meal ever since the historic flood of 2011.

"Of course, this village got flooded," Dunham said. "So, I called some friends here and asked if I could utilize my talents and skills as a chef. This is my fifth year doing this."

Dunham doesn't just cook for those who make it through the church doors. Volunteers pack meals to go for shut-ins -- and for our local heroes, who have to spend their holiday at work.

"The (Tioga County) Sheriff's Office. Those that work inside the actual jail that can't leave, so we'll end up taking food to them," Dunham said. "The local police department, anybody in the fire department."

The celebrations don't end with dinner. There's live music, crafts and toys for the kids -- and even a coat drive for those who need a little extra help staying warm this winter.

"If anybody was a grinch, your heart grows ten times its size," Patterson said. "You just well up in the spirit of the season, and we believe in giving."

The Christmas meal will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Owego United Methodist Church is located at 261 Main St. in the village.