MONETT, Mo. -

The fate of Christmas for many families in Monett was uncertain when the town's "Santa" died of cancer earlier this year.  Linn Thornton loved to give and was loved for all he gave.  He brought the community together for more than 29 years every Christmas by providing a community dinner.

The dinner on Wednesday was the first since his passing.  Earnie Thornton, Linn's son says he plans carry on his father's legacy.

"Two or three weeks before he got really sick, he asked if I could do the dinner, which I promised I'd do it," said Earnie.

Earnie made sure Linn's memory was present at the dinner. He placed old pictures at the center of each table.

Earnie says his father taught him and the community the true meaning of Christmas, and he hopes to do the same.

"I just want to give everybody something to do, someplace to go. That's all he ever wanted so that's what I'm trying to do."

In the kitchen, volunteers packed to-go boxes to be delivered to those who couldn't make it to the Methodist church.  Greg Davis, who has helped cook the dinner for more than 20 years, is glad they are continuing Linn's tradition.

"He had a vision. He wanted people to have a nice meal and there are so many people out there that don't have a family to go to and who would ordinarily be by themselves. But coming here, we are family."

William Smith says he started coming to the dinner when it was held at the American Legion years ago.  As the event grew, it was moved to the United Methodist Church.  Smith told Earnie that the dinner has given him something to look forward to every Christmas.

"It has helped a multitude of people and your father leaves a heck of a legacy."

It's a legacy that Earnie plans to continue.