For the past 25 years, St. John the Divine Anglican Church hall has been a safe haven for those looking for fellowship, a hot meal and the milk of human kindness on Christmas Day.
Eileen and Reg Chan have been the hosts of this holiday hangout, making sure every little detail was as perfect as possible.
The annual Christmas dinner was first organized by Bonnie Carr and Barb Ingram. Bonnie had just pulled through a rather bad year and wasn’t looking forward to Christmas dinner and figured there must be
others who felt the same. And so the Christmas dinner was born.
Over the 15 years Eileen and Reg have been steering the Christmas dinner ship, they’ve heard heart-warming and heart-wrenching stories but regardless of the circumstance, no one was ever turned away.
One story they tell is of a man who’d had an extremely difficult year and was on his way to the river to end it all. He was passing the church and was invited into the hall and treated to Christmas dinner with all the trimmings and a healthy helping of warm hospitality. Eileen said he reconsidered his options.
“This dinner has always welcomed the lonely, the sad, new faces in town and anyone wanting a warm and welcoming Christmas Day,” Eileen said.
She added they’ve always tried to make their dinner guests feel as though they’re dining at a fine restaurant – table service and all.
Last year they served 150 meals. That required nine turkeys, 50 pounds of potatoes and about 24 pies.
“We depended on corporate, union and individual donations and the community always dropped off random donations,” Reg said.
With a piano always in the hall, people would also come by and provide entertainment.
However, last year Eileen and Reg knew it was time for them to bow out gracefully.
“When you no longer look forward to the event, you know its time to step away,” Eileen said.
“For the first time in 15 years we’re going out to friends on Christmas Day.”
Quick to see a need, the Salvation Army has stepped in and will be offering Christmas dinner, in much the same way as Eileen, Reg and their army of
done for the past 25 years.
“Quesnel is a kind and caring community and it’s not surprising another organization stepped up and took this over,” Eileen added.
“We have wonderful memories of those dinners. It was our way of going to church on Christmas day. The stories are amazing – the girl who had just lost her mother – the 70-something woman who just lost her husband but wasn’t sad about it, just ready to get out – the woman whose ex-husband had the kids for Christmas – everyone has a story to tell.”
Lt. Stefan Van Schaick of the Salvation Army was happy to take over the Christmas dinner and says they plan to keep it much the same as it has always been.
“We are looking to create much the same atmosphere, welcoming anyone who is looking for a chance to be around people in a warm and welcoming environment,” he said.
“We’ll provide table service and turkey with all the trimmings. All the people have to do is show up.”
The Salvation Army has for the last few years offered Christmas dinner a couple of weeks before Christmas Day at the Warrior’s Song Cafe but this year they’re replacing that meal with Christmas
dinner on Dec. 25.
“This schedule works well for us, especially in light of our kettle campaign which begins on Nov. 28,” Stefan said.
“We’ll still be offering Breakfast with Santa, Dec. 19, but for that, tickets are required.”
The Salvation Army also hands out Sunshine bags to seniors in Dunrovin and Maeford Place.
Although the majority of the public looks forward to the Christmas season with a flurry of engagements and time with family and friends, for those where the season doesn’t hold such happy prospects, they will find a warm
welcome at the Warrior’s Song Cafe, Dec. 25.