As customers traditionally do, Jim Smoker pulled out his wallet as he approached the register at Round the Clock diner on Christmas.

But instead of handing over the cash to pay the bill, the Conewago Township man slid some money through a small slot in the lid of a large bucket.

The Manchester Township eatery wasn't charging for its meals on Christmas Day. Instead, it opened its doors to offer free meals in exchange for donations that went to the Children's Home of York and to feed the less fortunate.

"It's our day to give back to the community," said Catherine Sacarellos, wife of Round the Clock owner Dimos.

Volunteers: The kitchen of the diner was staffed by its usual cooks while the front of the house was run by a mix of employees and customers who gave up time on Christmas in the name of charity.

Roger Luckenbaugh, a regular at the diner, was getting a chance to see what it's like to be a waiter. In a word, Luckenbaugh said it's "busy."

"I know what the girls are putting up with when they work a full shift," the North York man said.

Luckenbaugh turned up at the 222 Arsenal Road about 10:30 a.m., half an hour before it opened for the day, to lend a hand.

He said he was compelled to do so in an effort to help the community after he heard about the free meal campaign now in its eighth year.

"They (restaurant employees) treat me right, and you should reciprocate," Luckenbaugh said.

Menu: Round the Clock didn't offer a full menu, but that didn't stop customers from turning up at the diner.

By noon, the parking lot was nearly full of cars, and the diner was bustling as the wait staff rushed around serving the two dinner options -- turkey and filling or ham steak, both with vegetables.

In year's past, the diner has collect on average $3,000 a year, Sacarellos said.

"We're hoping we can get that much each year," she said.

The event started purely as a free meal program for the less fortunate. Though that aspect continues -- a Catholic charity in Harrisburg has been busing those in need to the diner for a free meal -- Sacarellos said the donation collection was implemented to further help the community.

"Need has a lot of different definitions," she said.

More time: Joe Smoker and his wife, Joanne, said they went to the restaurant partly because they wanted to make a donation and because this was the first year their grown children weren't home for the holiday.

Instead, the Smokers' children will be home for New Year's Eve, giving the couple a few extra days to prepare.

"We'll be baking cookies and wrapping gifts today," Joanne Smoker said. "I'm glad to have extra time to get ready."

- Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.