After 40 years, many of the familiar faces become friends. It’s one of the reasons the Charlotte Eagles Community Christmas Dinner is so special to the many volunteers that help put the program on each Christmas day.

The program has always been a tradition for Donie Osborn, program coordinator. Her parents, Les and Eunice Wells along with Howard and Jean Moss and several other Eagles members, founded the program in 1974. She’s spent every Christmas day since serving people in her community.

“It’s a tradition for my family,” Osborn said. “The Eagles members, though, are the ones that help make it a success.”

It takes close to 100 volunteers to prepare a Christmas feast for close to 150 people every year. Among them have been Osborn’s children and grandchildren, the third and fourth generation to participate in the tradition.

The dinner has always been open to anyone in the community and its need is the same as it was 40 years ago.

“They knew of many residents in the Charlotte area that would be alone on this special day,” Osborn said of the reason her parents helped found the program. “I get nostalgic thinking about all these people who are home alone or have family in another city somewhere. This whole thing started because there were so many people who could benefit from something like this.”

The program started small in the early years. As word of the program spread, the number of people in need of a place to go for Christmas grew. Osborn said volunteers typically prepare enough food for 150 people, though there is always enough for anyone in need. Volunteers even deliver meals to those who may be homebound and provide rides to the Eagles if needed.

Last year’s storm meant volunteers had to deliver 90 meals to people in the Charlotte area. Osborn said it’s that kind of dedication from Eagles members that has allowed the program to continue for so long. She said it also helps to have such a generous community. Every year businesses and individuals donate food and money to the program to ensure its success. It takes a lot of generosity to provide turkey or ham and all the trimmings to so many people. Each table is decorated with a poinsettia and all are raffled off to guests at the end of the day. Each family also receives a fruit basket.

This year’s program takes place Christmas day, Thursday, Dec. 25 at 1 p.m. Volunteers will begin preparing some of the trimmings on Christmas Eve. Others will begin cooking the turkey and ham on Christmas morning, all in preparation for the big event.

“You’re able to make somebody happy,” Osborn said of participating in the program for so many years. “You’re able to bring joy to people who might be sitting home, being hungry. Sometimes the people coming in, you just know they may not have much. It’s rewarding.”

Charlotte Eagles is located at 116 Lansing Street in Charlotte. For more information on the Community Christmas Dinner, call (517) 543-6361.