The purpose? “To help make Christmas special for needy families,” says Major Rene Loveless, then pastor at the church and now divisional secretary for public relations and development for The Salvation Army in Newfoundland and Labrador. “This just fits in with our mission, what Christmas is all about for us.”
Sharing the Story
The origins of the Christmas supper can be found in 2001, when the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain of stores in the city contacted St. John’s Temple and inquired about what they could do to help people in the community during the Christmas season.
After Mary Brown’s took over the KFC stores six years ago, the tradition continued, says Dennis Kavanagh, special projects manager. “Our 140 store operators put an emphasis on giving back and helping out in the community, especially when we can partner up with good people like The Salvation Army, and this is just one of many things we try to do to help out,” he says.
Preparations for the event begin in the fall, when a planning committee organizes and directs the various activities associated with the event and assigns more than 120 volunteers to different areas of responsibility, such as registration, transportation, security and meal co-ordination.
“Registration is done through our family services,” says Major Rene, “in conjunction with our Christmas hamper registration. We see people of every age from all over the metro area, including the working poor, homeless people, frequent visitors to food banks and new Canadians.”
Getting there is a big part of the puzzle. Free transportation is provided to all those who cannot make it to the dinner without it, and 35 volunteers are involved, using their own vehicles.
Once the guests arrive to a warm welcome from the volunteers, they are treated to carol singing and Christmas music by the worship team. In this joyous setting, happy children line up to meet and have their photos taken with Santa Claus. A Salvation Army pastor provides a few brief words of welcome and shares the Christmas
story with those assembled.
The highlight of the evening is a full-course sit-down chicken meal with all the trimmings, prepared by more than 30 off-site volunteers from Mary Brown’s and served by dozens of church and community volunteers.
With almost 500 guests, the Christmas dinner needs to be split into 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. sittings.
As the last of the guests from the first meal depart, the entire dining area has to be tidied up and prepared for the second group.
“It’s a smooth operation but everything has to come together for all of this to work, from food delivery and servers to the meal itself to transportation to clean-up,” says Major Rene.
Every child receives a loot bag of goodies, and movie passes are provided for the family, thanks to the generous support received from community sponsors.
The evening does not go unappreciated.
“The event brings many smiles and brightens the season for every family as they enjoy a night out together, with warm fellowship and a great meal, served up with compassion by our many volunteers,” Major Rene notes. “We get Christmas cards from our guests afterwards, thanking us for the wonderful evening. For many lonely people and shut-ins, this meets a need for companionship and social interaction.”
When asked why The Salvation Army hosts this event year after year, Major Rene replies, “Christmas is a time for giving, and what we do here comes from our desire to add something special to Christmas for those who might not otherwise have this opportunity.”