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Community Christmas dinner being served for 20th year on Dec. 25

It will take no fewer than 18 turkeys (at 15 pounds apiece), 80 pounds of potatoes, 50 pounds of peas and 40 pounds of carrots to feed the up to 200 guests expected to attend the annual Community Christmas Dinner at St. Joseph’s parish hall next month.

“And, of course, we’ll do the stuffing, too,” promised Catherine Ducharme, who has been helping to put together the free holiday meal for the past 17 years and now serves as co-ordinator.

Ducharme has been volunteering at the event almost from the beginning. This December will mark the 20th year that the turkey dinner (with all the trimmings) has been served inside the hall at 20676 Fraser Hwy. on Christmas Day.

And, of course, there is the all-important question — what’s for dessert?

“In years past, there has been so much baking It has almost gone to waste,” said Ducharme.

So this year, they decided to try something different.

“It will be Christmas cake with ice cream.

“I don’t know if it will be too cold for ice cream,” she added with a laugh.

Each guest will be given a gift basket with about 10 baked treats to take home, as well.

For many, though, the annual dinner is as much about the social interaction as it is about the meal itself.

Roughly one third of the people who come are seniors, another third are homeless people who likely wouldn’t otherwise get a nice Christmas dinner, and the final third are people who, for whatever reason, find themselves alone during the holidays and prefer to share a meal.

“Lot’s of times, people do meet new friends,” said Ducharme.

“You sit at a table with strangers and — with our games and activities — you get to know them. It’s a bonding experience.”

For Ducharme and her fellow volunteers, the dinner offers a chance to give back to the community.

“My children are grown and gone; it’s just my husband and myself,” she said. “It’s a place for us to go and it’s part of our faith.”

When Ducharme started helping out in the mid 1990s, around 200 meals were being served each year. Since then, the number has dropped off slightly, she said.

Last Christmas, 160 people came for dinner. This year, she expects the numbers could range anywhere from 150 to 200. Many people will be lined up before the doors to the hall open at 4 p.m., she said.

Dinner is served at 5 p.m. and the event usually goes until about 9 p.m.

Ducharme said that as far as food and volunteer labour are concerned, they’re all set. But, as always, the challenge is finding volunteer drivers.

“It’s hard to get people to pick up and drop off on Christmas Day.”

Last year, about 15 people — mostly seniors — called to request a ride, she said.

Anyone who is able to help out is asked to call the St. Joseph’s church office at 604-534-3303. This is also the number to call if you would like to attend the dinner, but need a ride to and from the church hall.

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