Spreading Christmas cheer

A trio of volunteers take a well-earned break during the Community Christmas Dinner at St. Mary High School on Dec. 25. -- Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald

Hundreds came to St. Mary High School Tuesday to eat, visit and maybe take home something a little festive at the annual Community Christmas meal.

Over 100 volunteers, five service groups and many generous donors pooled their resources to once again feed as many as 3,000 people.

The event, while volunteer-run, receives contributions from organizations such as First Nations Forum, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, Kateri House, Two Bears and Prince Albert Aid for the Homeless and Hungry.

It’s a project Isabelle Impey started 16 years ago, mostly with the help of her family.

“It’s always wonderful,” Impey said between directing volunteers and cutting more slices of pie.

“The people that need to be here are here, and we’re not just looking at people who are impoverished.  We have people here who are alone and they don’t have to be alone on Christmas. They come here, volunteer and eat and have a great time. That’s what this should be all about.”

Dhadha Carandang-Deleon has been helping for the last five years. She even brings along help in the form of families visiting from her native Philippines.

The registered nurse sees the event as a way to give back to the community and to participate in a local tradition while living the message of Jesus.

“In my practice I heal the sick. Here I heal the hungry,” she said.

“This is a time I can help the Prince Albert population. It’s to share the feeling that we are all one.”

The dinner includes turkey, ham, gravy, bread, mashed potatoes, vegetables, salad, stuffing and dessert.

Last year, about 140 volunteers stepped up to feed about 2,540 people, including homebound residents who have food delivered.

Looking at her preliminary numbers, Impey said she expect this year’s numbers will be similar, which is why organizers planned for enough food to feed 3,000.

(The volunteers) are fabulous,” Impey said.

“They really help out, and they’re doing it with lots of cheer. Some of the volunteers are going around saying ‘are you okay, are things okay with you?’ That visiting, that fellowship that’s taking place is really important. It[s probably the most important piece. You want people to feel welcome and we want to spend time with them.”

Even with the volunteers and service groups helping out, the initiative also benefits from additional support. Northern Lights Casino provides some funds and the company’s staff buy gifts for the children’s toy room. Local realtor Duane Braaten also chipped in financially, and Wes Erlendson, owner of Safeway, donated and cooked 30 turkeys. The food bank aided with the rest. In total, volunteers and donors provided 45 turkeys in just two days.

While the initiative has grown, Impey still enlists her kids to help. One of her sons dons his RCMP uniform to ensure people keep the peace, and also to help hand out door prizes. He other son spends all day in the kitchen.

“They wouldn’t see me otherwise, so they come to see me here,” Impey said. At first, it was mostly family. But now, everybody comes.

Sixteen years on, Impey has no intentions of stopping the project, which she says belongs to the community. For her, the Community Christmas Dinner is a way to give back.

“I raised my kids in P.A. and it was a good city,” she said.

“I’ve been treated really well here, and this is just a little I can do to give back. A lot of people feel that way. They’re just giving back to the community.”