The Westman and Area Traditional Christmas Dinner opened its doors at 12 p.m. yesterday, and within a matter of minutes, the room was filled to capacity.
Held in the Keystone Centre’s Convention Hall, there were enough seats to fit 240 people at one time. A lineup quickly formed in the hallway, with people waiting patiently for their turn to eat a warm turkey dinner with all the fixings.
“As far as I can see, every seat is being used … we’re at the max,” said Gladden Smith, chair of the dinner’s board of directors, shortly after the doors opened. “It’s possible that there is a few more lined up than there has been other years, but we have nice weather out there today.”
The room was decorated with festive poinsettias and full of smiling volunteers for the 29th annual Traditional Christmas Dinner. The event started in 1985 by Rocky Addison, his family and a few close friends.
It has grown significantly from its humble beginnings, when just 30 people attended in a small church.
Today, the dinner feeds thousands of people. Smith said they prepared for about 4,000 plates — 2,000 in person and 2,000 for delivery.
“There’s a lot of lonely people out there. They have no family in town for whatever reason, can’t travel, so here they have a place to come for a nice meal, fellowship,” Smith said. “It’s a day for them, they can come out instead of sitting at home alone.”
Attending the dinner has become a tradition for David Clipping, who brought his family and friends with him on Wednesday.
“I’ve actually came here the past 19 years,” he said, as he waited for a seat. “To me, it’s all good. It’s something to do … there’s nothing to do on Christmas.”
Clipping brought his mother, his girlfriend and some friends to enjoy a warm meal with.
It takes hundreds of volunteers make the event a success. They are the ones who prepare the food, dish out meals, clear plates and deliver the meals.
“The volunteers are doing a great job as usual,” Smith said.
For many people, volunteering at the dinner has become a part of their own Christmas custom, such as Lawrence Wood, who has volunteered at the event for nearly 25 years.
“It puts a smile on your face,” he said. “Part of it is fun and part of it is work-related, but the people that you work with makes the difference.”
Santa Claus made an appearance, which thrilled the children in attendance.
“Everybody seems to be happy,” Wood said.
Another longtime volunteer is Ann Reid, who has been involved for the past 27 years.
“This is part of my Christmas tradition because I come from a family of 10 and I need the noise,” she said. “That’s an adrenaline rush for me. We have the same volunteers come year after year and they’re just absolutely super. We could not do this without them.”
Reid said for many people, it’s not so much the meal that they need, but the companionship.
“People sit with them at the table, talk with them and that’s what they need,” she said. “It’s not the food really, it’s the spiritual kind of thing.”
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 26, 2013