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Pictured are volunteers from St. Paul Lutheran Church's soup kitchen in Michigan City.

Many of us have wonderful feasts to look forward to during the holiday season. They're often elaborate spreads accompanied by bubbly toasts surrounded by loved ones in festively decorated homes.

However, the holidays don’t go that way for everyone. And in this season of celebration of giving, one region chef decided that everyone should be able to enjoy a hot, upscale meal on Christmas Eve.

Chef Erik Tannehill fills in as a soup kitchen duty team leader as needed at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Michigan City. When there’s a hole in the schedule that others can’t fill due to emergency, illness or other reasons, he steps in.

“I took a shift recently and noticed that the Christmas Eve soup kitchen shift was open,” he said. “Then, I took it upon myself to plan an upscale restaurant-style buffet for the meal. I am blessed by being able to give my abilities to provide a holiday meal.”

This is his first time planning the Christmas Eve meal in this manner and he hopes it can be an annual tradition. So far, he’s garnered a tremendous amount of support from the food community in Northwest Indiana.

“We’ve had an outpouring of volunteers from the local area, from New Buffalo, Michigan to Merrillville, Indiana that are willing to donate goods and help, after I posted this event to a few local groups, including Phil's Phoodie Phinds on Facebook,” he said. “Mike Rueth of Gamba Ristorante, Erik Bakreveski of Franklin House and Art Georgion of Stacks have offered to donate ingredients for the menu. I have a few team members from Volstead, Arturo's Baked Goods and More, Royale, then Chappy's Stadium Inn volunteering to help in the kitchen.”

Currently working as an independent freelance chef, Tannehill also has been doing some outreach for Keys to Hope Resource Center in Michigan City. The center is available for showering, laundry and help with getting people enrolled in programs to help them improve their current situations. He’d also like to start a culinary program to teach basic skills to those who need a new trade, including displaced/homeless individuals.

This upscale Christmas Eve dining experience will take place at St. Paul Lutheran Church, 818 Franklin St. Michigan City. Besides the generous donations from area restaurants, Tannehill said he is still looking for additional donations, including beverages.

“A few have offered cash donations, but we are looking to see where we are and possibly asking those that want to do that to maybe give the gift of hygiene products, coats, gloves, hats, socks or sweatshirts,” he said.

Tannehill expects to serve 200, but will be prepared for more. “Everyone is welcome and no one will be turned away,” he said. “I want everyone to feel the blessings of a great meal and fellowship of a team to flow into the holidays.”

If you are interested in donating, you can contact Tannehill via Facebook or at cheferiktannehill@gmail.com.

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