For some it may have been the only meal of the day, but for most of the people who sat down to a holiday dinner at the Davis Veterans' Memorial Center on Christmas Eve, the gathering was more about fellowship than food.
"It's a good time for the community to catch up on itself," said Darryl Rich, a former UC Davis student who returned to live in the city about five years ago.
This is the 27th year that the Davis Food Co-op has hosted the free Christmas Eve dinner for everyone in the community who wishes to attend. Community groups, businesses, co-op suppliers, co-op shoppers and many of the guests provide donations to make it possible.
Volunteers prepared and served the meal – ham, chicken and a variety of vegan dishes, including dressing, mashed potatoes, and carrots and cauliflower with mint. Community members provided the desserts.
Last year, they served about 800 people, said Stacie Frerichs, president of the co-op board of directors.
They don't take reservations, but they always manage to prepare plenty of food for all who come during the two-hour period, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Melanie Gentles, the mother of three children ages 1, 3 and 5, said she has been coming to the dinner for seven years. With much of her family in Canada, she said, the community meal offers that greater sense of family she would otherwise miss during the holidays.
"It's just a nice community gathering," she said. It's easy, it's something to do, and you're not lonely."
It also leaves time for other Christmas Eve festivities, she said, noting that her family would be co-hosting a dessert party after the dinner.
Marlene Schwartz and her husband, John, have lived in Davis for 52 years. Their family typically gathers for a holiday meal on New Year's Day, she said. This is the third year the couple have joined in the Christmas Eve dinner.
"You don't have to cook," she said.
The event draws a cross section of the community, from people staying in homeless shelters, to foreign students, to young people who grew up in Davis and have come back to visit family for the holidays.
"It breaks down barriers," Frerichs said, noting that homeless people sit down to dinner with longtime Davis residents and they visit.
Sharing a meal with one another as fellow guests creates a much different dynamic than volunteers serving a meal at a shelter.
"It's a very different way to develop community," Frerichs said.
Some volunteers were from out of town. Nebraska resident Bonnie Block said she was visiting her daughter in Davis and was pressed into service. This is the second year she's attended the dinner.
Laurie Friedman, owner of a local photography business, was making her way through the serving line. She makes a donation each year to help support the dinner.
"It's just fun," she said. "You see old friends and catch up. And the desserts are great!"