GASTONIA, N.C. -- Volunteers started early Christmas Eve to prepare for a marathon meal.

The annual Christmas dinner is served at First Baptist Church in Gastonia, and lasts a whopping 18 hours.

Crews were outside prepping and firing up grills in the dark of the early morning. They arrived at 2 a.m. to make sure everything was ready for the 13th annual feast.

Dinner is served around 6 p.m. and it won t end until noon on Christmas Day. The homeless, needy and community service workers all benefit from the tradition.

In addition to a hot holiday meal, donors also give away toys and clothing, which totals about $10,000 alone. Bikes are one of the several gifts available. They re given away through a ticket drawing at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. Other toys are handed out at 6 p.m. Children must be present to be eligible.

More than 2,200 plates were served in 2012. Volunteers hope to match that number this year, including all 1,200 pounds of chicken, 25 turkeys, 15 hams and plenty of produce.

As NBC Charlotte s Glenn Counts said, Who says you got to wait for Santa to come from the North Pole? I think Santa s right here.

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