Destin United Methodist Church is inviting the community, particularly the lonely or needy, to its church for dinner on Christmas Day.

This Christmas, families and friends all over Destin will gather at their dinner tables for a warm meal to celebrate the holiday.

But not everyone has family or friends, and not everyone can afford a Christmas meal.

Destin United Methodist Church wants to be the place for those people to go.

The church, located at 200 Beach Drive, is having its third annual Christmas Day Community Dinner from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. in its gym, located in the main building.

“Christmas is one of the loneliest times for lots of people,” said DUMC Lead Pastor Barry Carpenter. “Among them are the divorced, widowed, single people, those who live away from their family or have no friends. So we say, this is the time we need to step in. It’s not just about food, it’s about communicating to them that they’re important and they’re loved and they are not alone.”

DUMC Chief Operating Officer Bud Weaver said that the event is inspired by Harbor Docks’ Thanksgiving dinner, which has been feeding everyone from the needy to the well-off on Thanksgiving Day for the past 22 years.

“The entire community (is invited),” Weaver said. “Those who are alone, those who are in the service industry. It really is a lot like the Harbor Docks meal. We invite homeless people all the way to successful people.”

Harbor Docks will be donating food for the event, as well as Brotula’s, 790 on the Gulf, La Famiglia, Fudpuckers and Crab Island Cantina, said Betsy Taylor, one of the organizers of the event. She added that Walmart just donated 50 turkeys.

About 100 volunteers will be on hand to seat, serve and cook the meals, and organizers expect about 700 guests to attend. Chefs John Wagner and Heyward McKenzie will be preparing all of the food.

“They’ll come in two or three days beforehand with a volunteer cooking team,” Taylor said. “Then they’ll come in on Christmas morning at 5 a.m. and start cooking the turkeys, heating everything up and making the gravy.”

The Christmas dinner is just one way that DUMC is reaching out to people during the holidays. OTHERS of Destin Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit started by the church, sponsors a “Tree of Joy” program that provides Christmas gifts to 325 local children.

“It’s just part of our faith,” Carpenter said of his church’s generosity during the holidays. “Christ exists for people outside the church, and that’s who we would extend an invitation to. If you don’t have a family, or a church, we invite you. You won’t be cornered about your faith or pressured to come to church … it’s not about that.

“It’s sort of like the cup of cold water that Christ talked about,” he added. “He said if you give the cup of cold water, it’s in my name. That’s why we do this, for him, to represent him in the world…and our world is right here.”