Wendy Warshawski, sitting, coordinates the committee that oversees the Community Christmas Dinner. Its membership also includes from left to right in the middle row Clara Knight, Sandra Rafferty, and Isabelle Yoxall, while Patti Sanders represents the Mary Winspear Centre. Donations for the event come from Thrifty Foods represented by store manager Kurtis Francis (left), Save-On-Foods represented by store manager Dave Alexander (right) and Fairway Markets with manager John Bailey missing from picture. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Sidney’s Community Christmas Dinner celebrates 20th anniversary this year

The dinner attracted more than 300 people to Mary Winspear Centre last year

When the Community Christmas Dinner returns to Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre on Dec. 25, it will mark the 20th anniversary of spreading holiday cheer to the community and beyond.

“To my knowledge, there is nothing else on Christmas Day,” said Wendy Warshawski, coordinator of the volunteer committee that oversees the dinner. “I think the [SHOAL Centre for Seniors] has a dinner in their dining room at night, but nobody has a lunch of this size as far as I know and up until about four years ago, we were the only game in town. There was nothing.”

The dinner itself serves turkey with all the trimmings thanks to donations from Fairway Market, Save-on-Foods and Thrifty Foods in Sidney among other donors. Admission to one of the two sittings — 11:15 a.m and 1:15 p.m — is by donation to cover costs. Call 250-656-7678 for reservations.

When Silver Threads, the future site of the SHOAL Centre for Seniors, held the first dinner in 2000, then-organizers April Andrews, Debbie Seeboth and Jeanette Hughes, had planned for about 100 people.

“They started it out for people who they thought were alone on Christmas Day,” said Warshawski, who has been involved with every dinner since 2001. “That was the whole thrust of it.”

It has since evolved into a broad community event, whose popularity has out-paced the population of Sidney. “The population has grown by three per cent, we grew something like 85 per cent in 12 years,” said Warshawski.

Last year’s dinner drew 326 people in two sittings.

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“It’s wonderful,” said Warshawski. “It means that it is a very important event to have in Sidney, that a lot of people need somewhere to go on Christmas Day. Or there are a lot of people who would rather not cook and Clara [Knight] does it for them.”

Attendees include single seniors, local realtors who treat some of their customers to a Christmas dinner, young families and older couples, who might not have the energy to cook, she said. “It’s everything, every walk of life.”

This diversity of backgrounds creates a sense of community. “They are seated as they go into the dining room, unless there is a table of eight and they all go in together,” she said. “So you might have a table of eight people, who don’t even know each other, and for the most part they get along just fine.”

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The dinner occupies a special place in Sidney’s packed calendar of events and festivals, one that has resonated beyond the Saanich Peninsula.

“Somebody came [into Sidney] on their power boat and they looked on the Town of Sidney [website] for something to do or something to be open,” said Warshawski. “And there was nothing. None of the restaurants were open back then. So they came up here. They saw us and they joined us.”

It is this sense of community and caring that continues that animates Warshawski and the other volunteers.

“What is most inspiring is the generosity of the people and the businesses in Sidney and having the opportunity to give back,” said Warshawski.

“Christmas dinner would really not be the same without everyone working together and making it our Christmas joy too,” said Clara Knight, kitchen coordinator, who will pay a culinary tribute to the very first dinner by preparing the same Christmas pudding she served during the inaugural edition.

“It’s the same recipe,” she said. “It’s my great-grandmother’s Christmas pudding recipe.”


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