Sidney’s Christmas Day dinner reaches out to holiday ‘orphans’

Reservations being taken now for two meal sittings on Christmas morning.

The Christmas Day Community Dinner crew of Wendy Warshawski (front from left)

For organizers of Sidney’s annual Christmas Day Community Dinner, it’s never too early to start talking about the event.

The annual dinner, now in its 17th year, was started in 2000 by three women — April Andrews, Debbie Seeboth and Jeanette Hughes — to provide not only a meal but companionship to seniors and others who are alone on Christmas Day. Last year, the dinner saw approximately 270 people come through two sittings — forcing organizers to bring in extra tables and chairs.

There was plenty of turkey and all the fixings, says Clara Hughes, who has been cooking for the event in each of its 17 years.

“It’s very, very important to me,” said Knight. “The people who I work with have become very close to me.”

When she first started, the event was held at the former Silver Threads community centre (now the SHOAL Centre). Knight said it was around when her children were 11 and 12 years old and she wanted to teach them a lesson about giving. So, she started cooking.

“People’s reactions to the dinner are incredible,” she continued, recalling one year when a couple arrived Christmas Day in Sidney on a boat and were walking through a mostly deserted downtown — and were amazed when they found the dinner in progress at the Mary Winspear Centre.

That’s the site, once again, for this year’s Community Dinner, scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 25 of course. There are two sittings for the meal, 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. — and reservations are already being taken. People can register between Nov. 24 and Dec. 20 by calling organizer Wendy Warshawski at 250-656-7678. Warshawski added they will accommodate anyone who arrives.

“We don’t turn anyone away,” she said.

A team of between 30 and 35 dedicated volunteers are kept busy all day, said volunteer organizer Isabelle Yoxall. Of course, volunteers have been working to prepare for the event well in advance.

“A lot of people are alone at this time of year,” Yoxall said. “And me, I really like doing this.”

Many volunteers on the day of the dinner make arrangements with family to have their Christmas on Boxing Day.

This year’s dinner will be held in memory of John Mackelson, a long-time cook who died last year, and the late Jeanette Hughes.

Warshawski said guests can expect a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, with food contributed by Save-On-Foods, Thrifty Foods and Fairway Market — with dessert provided and served up by Central Saanich’s Breadstuffs Bakery.

Local Lions Club members will be providing rides for people who need them and the day will include entertainment and music for all to enjoy.