WATERVILLE — Nine years ago, Ziggy Lawrence and his wife, Kim, were looking for a place to volunteer on Christmas Day but couldn’t find any local community dinners at which to work.

They traveled to Bangor to volunteer there, and a friend challenged Lawrence to start his own Christmas dinner. So Lawrence and two friends from a men’s Bible study in Waterville, Richard Dionne and Andrew Collar, founded what has become an annual tradition in the city that attracts nearly 1,000 people: the Central Maine Family Christmas Dinner.

The eighth annual free dinner will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Christmas Day, at the Waterville Elks Lodge, which is at the end of Industrial Street.

“It started because, bottom line, there are people who are alone on Christmas,” Lawrence said. He has three adult daughters, and his wife has a son in the Army who will be spending Christmas in Kosovo.

“We recognize there are people who are alone, and we wanted to reach out to them, to let them know they don’t have to spend Christmas alone,” said Kim Lawrence, speaking from the Elks Lodge on Tuesday.

Desserts are homemade by volunteers from area churches, but the Lawrences said Tuesday that they could use extras — last year they ran out.

There will also be entertainment, including caroling, live music, horse-drawn hayrides and visits with Santa Claus starting at noon.

The dinner is free and is open to people in Waterville as well as the surrounding area, the Lawrences said.

“One thing we’ve learned over the years is that people in Maine think the dinner is for the needy, and they don’t want to come if they’re alone, so they often volunteer instead,” Lawrence said. Because of the overabundance of volunteers in recent years, the Lawrences have started an online volunteer signup on the dinner’s Facebook page, Central Maine Family Christmas Dinner, as a way to organize volunteers.

They will also be providing rides to and from the dinner for those who don’t have a way to get there. In the past, they’ve picked up people from as far away as Winthrop and Hartland.

“Seeing everyone happy and not alone makes it all worth it. It’s a lot of work to prepare going into it, but it’s worth it in the long run,” said Kim Lawrence. “The area is fantastic. They really support us and that’s what it’s all about — community.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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