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Christmas day dinners serving up fellowship in the community

A great crowd at the Gilead Fellowship Church Christmas dinner last year. – Ann Sherwood photo

By Sharon Harrison
Some people choose to be alone, but those who would prefer some fun and fellowship are invited to attend one of three meals being hosted on Christmas day.

Local organizations, community and service groups and plenty of volunteers set to work with preparations and planning months ahead to meet their mission to ensure no one in Prince Edward County is forgotten on Christmas day.

Three separate groups across the County will be providing community dinners free of charge to everybody who wishes to attend Tuesday, Dec. 25.

The Prince Edward Community Centre in Picton will be abuzz with activity, camaraderie and joy beginning at noon on Christmas day. Now in its 19th year, it is the largest community dinner of its kind in the County and is put together by the good people at Gilead Fellowship, along with dozens of volunteers and helpers.

The event’s founder, Pastor Larry Snider, recalls the inaugural dinner was held in the Gilead Fellowship Church basement almost two decades ago. About 30 people gathered and attendance grew by leaps and bounds each year forward.

“We got to the point where we made an appeal to the municipality and they opened the doors for us to be able to use the Picton Community Centre through a grant process, and they have been really good to us to this point,” he said.

Last year, an army of volunteers prepared some 400 Christmas meals which included about 75 home deliveries for shut-ins, seniors and others.

“We also take meals to places like Hospice, the fire department and the ambulance services,” said Pastor Snider.

The outpouring of kindness shown to strangers doesn’t go unnoticed.

Among many treasured memories of appreciation he recalls a telephone call from a woman whose husband had received a meal at Hospice Prince Edward.

“His family was there and she said ‘you delivered Christmas dinner to us and my husband was able to eat it and enjoy it just before he passed away’. She said ‘you have no idea how much that meant to the family.’”

The people who attend at the community centre are not necessarily in need; mostly they would otherwise be alone.

“Rich or poor, it doesn’t matter. We want to be there for them. Our thought is nobody shall be turned away, but we specifically encourage people who are alone at Christmas time, from whatever walk of life you come from.”

The Christmas season, he notes, is one of the most difficult and loneliest times of the year especially since it’s supposed to be a happy time for everybody.

All is jolly December 25th at the community centre, set up festively, he notes, like a Holiday Inn celebration.

“We don’t want it to be a soup kitchen atmosphere. We want it to be a real festive, open place where people from all walks of life can come and have a Christmas dinner.”

While they never know exactly how many will turn out each year, they project attendance grows about five per cent year-over-year and planning begins in September. This year, 20 turkeys and six or seven cooked hams will be prepared, along with all the fixings and desserts.

“We have different people who cook them for us and we have a tremendous kitchen staff who are trained people and we have about 40 to 45 volunteers who come out on Christmas Day,” he said.

Over the years he’s found the volunteers are inspired and often come back to assist every year – so much so, the event has a surplus of volunteers and some have to be turned away. Those who wish to volunteer are encouraged to contact Gilead Fellowship before the end of November each year.

The meal has also seen an increase in attendance by seniors, not surprisingly as the County’s senior population grows.

“A lot of them have lost loved ones, sometimes they are alone and it is a very difficult time for them,” he said. “But when they come out, they are really glad to be here. They are laughing and having a good time. It’s beautiful.”

There are also some 50 door prizes valued at $25 and up, and plenty of music.

“We have been so blessed by the community, businesses, church groups and service clubs who are behind us and help us, and individuals who are also supporting us. We are very thankful for the continued growth of it,” said Snider. “It’s people helping people.”

The Prince Edward Community Centre is located at 375 Main Street in Picton and festivities begin at noon. To arrange home delivery, or a ride, call Gilead Fellowship at 613-476-2622, or Cindy Keddie at 613-471-1115 or Theresa at 613-476-7284 before Dec. 23 if possible. On Christmas day, call 613-471-0950 or 613-471-0052.

For those who would prefer an evening meal with community fellowship, the Friendship United Church in Demorestville is hosting a community dinner with allthe fixings from 5-7 p.m. at the church hall. It is also free of charge, but a free-will offering is gratefully received.

“It’s for local people so they don’t have to spend Christmas alone,” said organizer Tina Hiddink. “Our little church has focused on outreach in the community and we thought it was a good opportunity to have people come that don’t necessarily go to church.”

Now in its sixth year, Friendship United Church averages about 55 people for the Christmas Day dinner, although poor weather can adversely affect turnout. While Hiddink notes that numbers have grown over the years, being located a little off the beaten path, they don’t expect the same numbers as at Picton’s event.

Friendship also welcomes many seniors on the day Christmas Day, but also families and children.

“There are people in the community that we knew had no family or family was away,” said Hiddink. “There are people who financially cannot afford to do things, so we want to do it, and we enjoy doing it,” she said.

Friendship United Church is located at 2765 County Road 5 in Demorestville. Contact Rev. Barb Willard at 613-403-4742 or Marjorie Pearsall at 613-476-3959 for further information. Volunteers are still needed on the day, so if anyone can spare a few hours, contact Friendship United Church.

For those in the west end of the County, the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 160 will also be holding a free community Christmas dinner at 1pm. The Legion is located at 364 Main Street in Wellington. Take-out and delivery are also available. For further information, contact Betty Wight at 613-399-3105.

For all three Christmas day community dinner events no reservations are required. Everybody is welcome.

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