The lineup outside the front doors stretched way down the sidewalk to the church on Tuesday 13 December. The crowd was in a festive mood -- tonight was the annual Christmas dinner at the St Alban Community Meal.
The doors opened at 5 pm, and from the moment our guests entered, they were treated to a very special evening. Just inside the door, each adult was offered a gift (Santa came later for the kids). They had their choice of a huge bottle of shampoo, a bag of cookies, a tube of toothpaste or a box of crackers. It was interesting to see who chose what -- most went immediately for the giant shampoo bottle, others quickly snagged a bag of cookies and some took a little time deciding before carefully selecting.
Next, with gift in hand, they moved through the double doors into the hall. What a spectacle greeted them: each table with its green or red table cloth, Christmas napkins and a beautiful centerpiece, and at the far end, up on the stage, a large Christmas tree lit up with a thousand lights.
We knew we wouldn't be able to seat everyone, even though up extra tables had been set in the lounge, but we were able to bring everyone inside out of the weather and fifty people lined up along the corridor waiting their turn for a meal.
It was worth the wait. The meal was superb: a traditional Christmas dinner, with all the fixins -- turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, vegetables, cranberries followed by fresh-baked pie. We set up two serving lines so everyone was served quickly. Including those waiting in line, we managed to serve over 220 people that night.
We had rolled the piano into the hall and Jackie added to the festivities by playing Christmas carols and leading the singing. Then, to the squeals of almost 30 children, in walked Santa Claus with a Ho, Ho, Ho, lighting up the room. He was loaded down with gifts courtesy of the kind elves at St Anne's Anglican Church and handed out a specially selected and wrapped gift for each child.
On the way out, everyone was given a mandarin orange and candy cane as a memento of a great evening. It was a fitting end and I haven't heard so many Merry Christmases and thank yous, in so many different accents, from so many smiling, grateful faces, in a long time.
For many of our guests, Christmas dinner at the St Alban Community Meal has become a wonderful annual tradition. For others, this was their first Christmas meal with us. The same can be said for the dedicated team that makes the Community Meal a reality. Together, the returning guests, the new guests, the longstanding volunteers and the new volunteers turned a meal into something truly magical - a Community Meal.