Getting into the Christmas spirit

Coun. Evert Botha (left) and Conrad Burns (right) pose with Capt. Laura Van Schaik on Dec. 8, 2017 The Salvation Army donated soap and socks to the campaign to assemble Christmas bags for men to be distributed at the annual Community Christmas Dinner. (Peter Lozinski/Daily herald)

Donors, volunteers wanted for annual Community Christmas Dinner

Organizers are getting ready for the annual Community Christmas Dinner, and they need help.

The dinner feeds between 2,000 and 2,500 people every year, and this year is expected to be no different. It’s put together by an army of volunteers who collect donations for mountains of food and gifts for the whole community to enjoy.

“It’s become a major community event for Christmas day,” said Sol Sanderson, one of the organizers.

“People come in from different places to visit family, and they’re got no place to have a meal. Everything pretty much shuts down on Christmas day.”

The event doesn’t just feed those who walk into the St. Mary school front doors. It also runs a delivery service for seniors and shut-ins who can’t get out of their homes.

“It also provides for some people that don’t have family or are not able to have a Christmas meal. It’s a place for them to come and enjoy a meal and have company for Christmas,” Sanderson said.

In addition to a meal, the event hands out Christmas gifts to those in need. It includes a huge toy room of donated goods for children to take something fun home.

To put the whole thing together, organizers rely on the community’s generosity.

“We’re looking for gifts for kids and support for the meals. We’re looking for cash donations,” Sanderson said.

“We always have a number of volunteers. They support working with the kids that are there, and help serve the meals. The day before, it’s all preparation.”

That preparation includes an entire day of potato peeling. It takes a lot of work to peel enough potatoes for more than 2,000 people.

But more than just food and gifts for kids are served up at the dinner.

For a number of years, city councillor Charlene Miller has helped collect bags of toiletries and other products for women. This year, she challenged Coun. Evert Botha and frequent volunteer Conrad Burns to get something together for the men.

Botha eagerly jumped on board.

“Coun. Miller … has been putting together handbags for the ladies. When she called earlier this week, I said sure, why not.”

Botha and Burns have been collecting backpacks and toiletries, as well as warm clothing, suitable for men.

“It’s just something for the fathers and brothers and uncles and grandfathers and sons,” he said.

“My understanding is that, historically, the ladies have been well taken care of, and the gentlemen don’t receive much. We’re stepping up and saying, well, we can do this.”

So far, the community has been generous. Several organizations and individuals, including MLA Nicole Rancourt, the Prince Albert Inn and the food bank, have donated products. Today, the Salvation Army is donating soap and socks.

“The response has been very positive,” Botha said. “Everybody we’ve spoken to, everybody we’ve reached out to has come back and said ‘we have this.’”

What Botha really needs is a bunch of bags. He wants to give the men something other than a shopping bag. He wants them to take away something they can use, such as a backpack or gym bag.

“We want to see if members of the community have old gym bags or old backpacks they can donate,” Botha said.

“We’ll pick them up, or they can drop them off at an address we’ll provide them.”

Botha said that whatever they get, they’ll pack up and get ready for Christmas day. Ideally, they’ll receive all donations by Dec. 20.

“We’ll take it all back and pack as many bags as we can for this event.”

To make a donation to the bag drive, contact Conrad at 306-941-0780 or Evert at 306-980-5387. To volunteer or donate to the dinner, contact Isabelle at 306-763-4630 or 306-980-7794.

The dinner itself is scheduled for 1-5 p.m. on Dec. 25 at St. Mary High School, 380 14th Street West. All are welcome and the event is free.

If you need to reserve a ride to the event, call 306-960-7825 or 306-940-4241.