As the last ladle of gravy was being put on the plate two years ago it appears as though Amherst’s community Christmas dinner would be no more.
Last fall, a group of community-minded Amherst businesses came together to save it, moving the event into a new venue and catering it out to the staff of the Old Warehouse Café. They hit it out of the park.
“We really weren’t sure how it was going to do, but the response was incredible,” Bill Munro of Archway Insurance said. “We served approximately 360 meals, including meals we sent to the nursing homes. There were plenty of volunteers and the mood was incredible.”
Based on that success, it’s not a surprise the dinner is returning on Christmas Day from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Amherst Lions Club and, as usual, is open to anyone who wants to come for a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings – and dessert too.
While some may say the dinner is only attended by needy families, Munro said that hasn’t been the case since he began volunteering several years ago. He said people from all walks of life, young and old, have come out to the dinner and everyone has their own reason for going.
“It really is for everyone,” Munro said. “There are a lot of people who are alone at Christmas and there are those who come to the dinner to socialize with others. We want the dinner to be inclusive and as welcoming as possible.”
Joining those who kept the dinner going last year are the Allen Auto Group and Lawton’s.
Karen Morehouse, who manages the Amherst Lawton's, has come to the dinner as a volunteer. It didn’t take her long to agree when she was approached about having Lawton’s come on board as a corporate sponsor.
“I worked the dinner as a volunteer and saw how many people it touched and how many came out,” she said. “It really wasn’t a tough sell to get our support.”
Don Furlong of DGF Realty said when he began making phone calls to area businesses it wasn’t difficult to come up with the funds needed to cater the meal. He said it’s a case of many hands making light work financially and everyone sees how important the meal is to the community.
Furlong said being involved with fundraising for many groups over the years this dinner is something that people find easy to help with.
“When I approached Karen at Lawton’s she seemed so excited and had volunteered at last year’s dinner. Mike Allen, president of Allen Auto Group, also jumped at the chance to help out. It only took one phone call and he was in,” Furlong said. “This whole group with were very pleased they could help out this year.”
The Town of Amherst is also on board as a sponsor this year through its community grants program while Archway Insurance, Sobeys, Jorgensen & Bickerton and the Maltby-Casey Investment Group are involved again this year along with DGF Realty.
“It really shows a sense of community and it’s something we want to support as a town,” Amherst Deputy Mayor Sheila Christie said. “Having been personally involved as a server I know first-hand the importance of the dinner to many people and we love to see good initiatives like this grow. It’s a very heart-warming experience.”
The first dinner was in 2006 and was organized by Bev Fynn at the Amherst Fire Department. A group led by Betsy Prager took over a couple of years later and moved it to the Bridge Workshop while Nancy Walsh at the Old Warehouse Café organized it two years ago before the group of businesses came together last fall to keep the annual event going and moved it to the Lions community centre.
Munro can’t say enough about the volunteers who come out for several hours on Christmas Day, but he also applauds the Lions.
“The Amherst Lions Club donates the hall to us and quite a few of the Lions themselves come out and help out on Christmas Day,” he said. “That speaks volumes about that organization’s commitment to the community. The fact all these volunteers come out on Christmas Day when they could be home with family says a lot about their sense of community as well.”