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A free Christmas meal in Appleton filled more than just stomachs

Appleton Community Christmas dinner Monday, December 25, 2017. (WLUK/Pafoua Yang)

APPLETON (WLUK) -- The holiday cheers are finally here, but William Vandersteen had hardly any family and friends around during Christmas Day.

"Just me and my mom and I'm lonely here in the holiday," Vandersteen said.

Vandersteen decided to do something to fill that void. He spent his holiday at the Riverview Gardens where community members organized free meals and companionship; no reservation needed.

He told FOX 11, "It's been a lot better than the last 30 years of my life. It's very inviting, they'll treat you like family even though you're not family."

The organizer, Edward Rathsack, had been putting on the community Christmas dinner for the last 30 years.

"I've been a veteran for many years; I've served overseas during the holidays and I know what a lonely time can be," Edward said.

When the event first started, volunteers helped feed 350 people. today that number went up to more than 2,000.

"Our goal is not to feed the people, that's kind of a trick to get you here, but our goal is to nourish your soul, to give you the opportunity to sit and talk with somebody." explained Edward.

About 300 volunteers worked Christmas day and they weren't only serving meals, but they delivered meals too.

Pam Stano of Appleton said, "We are waiting to have the meals brought out to us and we'll take our vehicles and bring the meals to the warming shelter in Appleton and serve and come back."

Stano was one of the volunteers and said she wouldn't want to spend her Christmas any other way.

"When we give, we receive, I think we actually receive more when we give," said Stano.

This year, the dinner tab was a little more than $4,000 to feed everyone.

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