Mike and Peaches Lukens, left, started the community Christmas dinner in Ocean City when their older daughter, Halley, was 4. Now Halley Martinez, second from right, and her husband, Teudy Martinez, far right, also are involved in the dinner, along with the Lukenses' other daughter, Jayne Lukens.

One family's nearly quarter-century tradition of feeding Christmas dinner to those in need began with an overabundance of gifts for a first grandchild.

Halley Martinez - then Halley Lukens - was just 3 when her parents looked around a room filled with Christmas gifts for the toddler, and decided the focus should be on those without so much.

The next year, they began a community dinner in Ocean City that fed more than 1,000 in 2012.

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"After Hurricane Sandy, there was just such a bigger need for people that were displaced," said Martinez, now 27. "And also more people who wanted to give. We got so many more donations last year."

In addition to serving those in need who come to the buffet, held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Christmas Day, volunteers also will deliver to shut-ins. They will transport others to the dinner if they need it - and if they are within a reasonable distance from St. Peter's United Methodist Church, where the dinner has been held for several years.

The event started in the little recreational building on the Sixth Street tennis courts where Ocean City High School now stands, Martinez said. As it grew, St. Peter's offered its facilities, complete with a kitchen.

Turkey donations must come precooked, but everything else is made in the kitchen, led by Martinez's father, Mike Lukens. Her mother, Peaches, is in charge of the dining room. But this year is her first in retirement, so Martinez and several other women who have been involved for years will take over more of those duties.

Martinez's sister, Jayne - who is four years younger - was born into the family's Christmas tradition.

Now, Martinez's husband, Teudy, and 15-month-old son, Max, also are involved.

"We're kind of taking it into our family and the next generation," she said.

Donations of cooked turkeys as well as clothes and toys for a gift table are welcomed. Volunteers can come between noon and 6 p.m. Dec. 23 to help with the set up and taking in the turkeys, which are carved and prepared then. Those who wish to donate an uncooked turkey can call, because Martinez said often there are other volunteers willing to cook.

While a lot of preparation is done two days before Christmas, the family is "nowhere to be found" on the 24th, Martinez said. That's when they have their own private tradition of a family meal and gift exchanges.

Then, on the 25th, they're back at the church to get ready, serve and clean up.

In addition to donations of time, food and gifts, money also is accepted, Martinez said. Anything above the expenses of the meal is put toward gifts.

Last year, so much was donated that they were able to not only use the money for gifts, but also to help out local businesses hurt by Sandy: they bought and gave out gift cards good for those businesses.

Anyone who wants to help may call Martinez at 609-846-5151 or the Lukenses at 609-398-8781.

Contact Lynda Cohen:


@LyndaCohen on Twitter


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