Christmas Dinner builds community bonds for 17th straight year

For the last 17 years, Prince Albert’s annual Christmas Dinner has grown and grown and grown, and coordinator Isabelle Impey expects that trend to continue well into the future.

Fortunately, Impey says they have a small army of volunteers who are eager to help out every year, and that trend was also on display as Prince Albert residents from all walks of life came together to make sure this year’s edition went off without a hitch.

“There’s just so much generosity in this community,” Impey said during a brief break in the action on Wednesday. “As soon as we say we’re going to put this on, people have been coming through. There’s tons of food and the kids are getting extra gifts this year, two or three gifts each, so it’s a real good day for everybody.”

Impey said volunteers are what keeps the event going, many of which continue to come back year-after-year. However, there’s also a new generation of volunteers offering their services, and they’re focused on keeping the event’s legacy intact.

“(The coordinators) can’t afford to hire anybody,” volunteer Bill Wasyliw said. “To have a function like this would be almost impossible to pay people to do it. I think a function like this has to be by volunteer, yes.”

Wasyliw and his wife Lorrie were volunteering for the second time on Tuesday. They knew Impey from other volunteer events, and were happy to lend a hand by running errands and canvassing for donations in the lead up to Christmas Day.

Both Bill and Lorrie feel it’s important to give back to the community, but they said they get something out of it too: camaraderie.

“It’s kind of nice for us today because our families are from out of town and they haven’t come in from Edmonton, Lethbridge and Saskatoon,” Bill said. “We said, ‘this is a good opportunity for us to take advantage of.’”

While everyone likes presents and turkey dinners, fostering community is the dinner’s biggest goal. The event is open to anyone who might be alone on Christmas morning, so it draws guests and volunteers from across the city.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said volunteer Ronda Ruzkowski, who came to the dinner just after finishing a 12 hour shift that began at 10 p.m. on  Christmas Eve. “It’s just a wonderful feeling to help out people who need it, and seeing so many new faces and meeting so many new people.”

For Ruzkowski, volunteering is a family affair. In 2018, she cooked tray after tray of baked goods with her mother, Marjorie, and handed them out to guests and attendees. The trays were so popular, she baked and donated more than 200 of them again in 2019. The only difference this year was that she had to do it by herself. Marjorie passed away in February, but Ronda said there was never any doubt she would support this year’s dinner.

“It was something that my mom and I talked about last year on Christmas Day,” Ruzkowski said. “We thought it was a wonderful idea to give back to the community and we were going to do it again this year. Mom passed away in February and I just decided that I’m going to do it for her. (It’s) something we were going to do together.

“She had a heart of gold and she gave back to her community. She always worked volunteering and stuff like that, so I know she’s with me, and I know she’s here.”

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