It was a chilly Dec. 25, 2016, but Deacon Dan Ritchie could feel the warmth inside the St. Joseph’s Parish church hall, in more ways than one.
The hum of conversation and scent of warm turkey and potatoes filled his senses.
The room was packed with roughly 250 people — some homeless, some drug addicted, others on a very limited income, as well as lonely seniors with no one to spend Christmas with.
All of them broke bread together during St. Joseph’s Parish’s free community dinner.
“The place was packed,” Ritchie recalled. “It was very jovial.”
Singer Mark Donnelly, notable to many because he often sings the national anthems at Vancouver Canucks games, offered his vocal talents.
“He and his family came by and they sang and got everybody involved,” Ritchie said. “They sang a lot of these beautiful, traditional Christmas songs.”
As the main co-ordinator of the dinner (once again happening this year on Dec. 25), Ritchie soaked in the atmosphere, but was also a very busy man.
“I was running from here, running to there… I’m like a conductor in the symphony,” he said. “The only place I don’t go is in the kitchen, I stay out of the kitchen. The chef looks after the kitchen.”
The annual dinner is a meticulously organized event that involves a lot of planning. Ritchie says there are several co-ordinators taking on lead roles: for example, there is a kitchen co-ordinator, one for the distribution of the food, and yet another when it comes to transportation to and from the event for the seniors who have no other way of getting to the dinner.
“I have multiple co-ordinators, so I’m just making sure they have everything they need,” Ritchie said. “They know how to do their work.”
Last year, more than 100 people volunteered to make things run smoothly, from servers, to dishwashers, to setup and cleanup.
“Most of them (the volunteers) were parishioners, but I’d say there was a lot from the community that don’t attend the church,” Ritchie said.
“That’s how we like to bill this dinner: this is St. Joseph’s gift to the community. I’ve had people call me up who aren’t part of our parish, to help in the preparations.”
There have been many folks willing to volunteer in past years. It led to a heartbreaking phone conversation, one that had a happy ending and set a precedent for dinners to follow.
“This one woman wanted to help so badly, but I already had enough people,” Ritchie shared. “She broke down and she started to cry. It was her first Christmas alone. She knew that by helping others, she would keep herself busy. So I said, ‘Yeah, sure, come on out.’”
From that point forward, Ritchie vowed never to turn any volunteers away.
“If we had 250 people eating and 250 people working, that’s OK by me,” Ritchie said.
Doors for this year’s dinner open at 4 p.m. on Christmas Day Monday, Dec. 25. Dinner is served at 5 p.m. sharp.
“We’ve got an appearance by Santa,” Ritchie said. “We have some gifts for the people.”
Toques, candy, and other items have already been donated to be given away.
Pre-registration is not required. If you want to enjoy Christmas dinner at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church (20676 Fraser Hwy), simply come and “bring your appetite,” Ritchie said.
Turkey, ham, potatoes, mixed vegetables, and a multitude of desserts will be on the menu.
Volunteers can call the Parish office 604-534-3303, and give their name and phone number.
“Those numbers will be passed on to me by the secretary,” Ritchie said. “I call them, ask them what they want to do, and we’ll put them to work.”