By ALAN SHACKLETON
A number of local churches and their congregations will be hosting free Christmas Day dinners for those who may be in need of a meal or just some company on Dec. 25.
Since the early 2000s, St. Aidan’s Anglican Church in the Beach has been hosting a Christmas lunch for the community.
However, Deacon Michael Van Dusen said there will be a big difference for this year’s lunch as it will no longer be taking place at St. Aidan’s Memorial Hall but at Beach United Church instead.
That’s because the Memorial Hall has been sold and is no longer available as a venue for the lunch.
Organizers at St. Aidan’s, though, did not want to stop hosting the event for lack of a space and approached Beach United to see if they could help.
“We sold Memorial Hall and I approached the leadership group and we asked Karen Dale at Beach United and she said ‘absolutely, how can we help.’ They have been wonderful, generous people throughout this. I can’t say enough about the folks at Beach United,” said Van Dusen.
This year’s lunch will see the doors open at Beach United, 140 Wineva Ave., at noon on Dec. 25 with food set to be served at approximately 1 p.m. The Christmas lunch is free and everyone is welcome to attend. The event goes until 2:30 p.m.
Also on Christmas Day, Calvary Baptist Church at 72 Main St. hosts its community dinner from 3 to 5 p.m.
Organizer Rita Deverell said the dinner has been taking place for than 20 years, and has become a Christmas tradition for many in the community.
“It’s absolutely open to everyone who wants to come,” said Deverell. “It’s important to say it’s free. Non-perishable food donations are accepted, but it is free.”
She said the dinner draws people from different situations, and those attending will also receive a gift bag from Santa.
“We do get people who are hungry and homeless, but we also get people who don’t have any other plans but do have financial resources. Those people also want to know how they can help,” said Deverell.
“We get a combination of people and it works quite well.”
She said the mood is very friendly at the dinner and people feel like they are taking part in a Christmas at someone’s home.
“We have carols and grace from the pastor. It’s buffet-style, and folks get to chat and have some warm conversations and then Santa arrives and gives out gift bags. Most people seem to be happy and comfortable and stay for the whole time,” said Deverell.
“We have the odd person who fills up a take-out container and goes, but mostly people are sitting around and it’s like being in someone’s living room.”
Van Dusen said the St. Aidan’s Christmas lunch attendees also have varying levels of need. The church lets those who attend its Out of the Cold program and its Thursday lunches know about the Christmas lunch, and a good number of them do attend.
However, there are others who attend because it is a chance to meet and share a lunch with others on Christmas Day.
“There are a number of reasons why people who may seem to be living in an affluent neighbourhood like to come, and that includes the fact they may have family who are far away,” said Van Dusen. “It’s an opportunity for them to come out and socialize.”
He said there are lots of members from St. Aidan’s and the community who volunteer to help out at the Christmas lunch and it is often as meaningful an event for them as it is for those enjoying the meal.
“I think it also feeds the needs of the volunteers as well. People want to come out and help their community.”
Van Dusen added that the Christmas lunch has a long history in the Beach community as it was originally hosted by Quigley’s restaurant.
For years, Quigley’s had hosted a Christmas dinner for the community and around 1992 or 1993 they came to St. Aidan’s and said they did not have enough room for everyone at the restaurant and could they hold it in St. Aidan’s Memorial Hall.
“They asked if they could have the dinner in the hall and our answer was yes. They also asked if we could help set up tables, chairs and decorations,” said Van Dusen.
“Quigley’s did all the cooking for the dinner until the early 2000s when they closed down,” said Van Dusen. “When that happened we felt that we had a sense of it and would continue holding them ourselves.”
Long-time Beach resident Liz Rycaj used to work at Quigley’s and helped with the Christmas lunches there. When the event moved to St. Aidan’s, she started doing the cooking for the lunches.
The tradition of her involvement continues as she will be in charge of the cooking for this year’s lunch at Beach United.
Along with Christmas lunch, Van Dusen pointed out that St. Aidan’s also helps a number of families in need by providing them with Christmas containers which include a turkey and potatoes among other items. “So people are having their Christmas meals, but not necessarily coming to the church.”
For more information on the Christmas dinner at Calvary Baptist Church, please visit www.calvary-baptist-church.ca
For more information on the Christmas lunch at Beach United Church, please call Beach United at 416-691-8082 or St. Aidan’s at 416-691-2222.