Like many good ideas, it started with a need in the community.
With a large number of rooming houses in the Hintonburg community, a blues bar owner mentioned putting on a free Christmas dinner for people who might otherwise be alone, or couldn’t afford a holiday meal.
The idea sparked the imagination of the people in the close-knit community.
The owners of the Carleton Tavern, Sam and Simon Saikaley, volunteered their restaurant as a venue. Businesses and members of the community pitched in, giving money and food donations to help those less fortunate have a happier holiday.
“We were surprised by how successful it was,” remembered Vance Fandrey, co-chair of the Hintonburg Economic Development Committee, which co-sponsors and helps to organize the event. “We were flying by the seat of our pants.”
A decade later, the Carleton Tavern is again preparing to host the Christmas Day Dinner for people in the community.
Now a community institution, the event is still free and going strong, with hundreds of donors and volunteers ready to welcome an anticipated 700 people on Dec. 25.
Although the event is free for anyone who can’t afford it, Fandrey said “the social need is greater than the economic need.
“This dinner is a companionship thing. It’s hard to eat a turkey by yourself.”
“There were a lot of rooming houses in the neighbourhood at that time, and there still are a few. And there’s a huge seniors’ residence on Wellington.
“There are so many people involved, it’s unbelievable,” said Fandrey. “There are so many people who want to volunteer that day, we can’t handle them all.”
Donations to the Christmas Day Dinner continue to be welcome. People can drop off donations of turkeys, ham and baked goods for the dinner as well as new gifts for adults, especially for men, like sweaters, warm socks, winter accessories, gift certificates, bus tickets and telephone cards.
“We get lots of kids’ stuff,” said Vance Fandrey, “but not always for men.” Unwrapped gifts can be dropped off at the Carleton Tavern. For information or to donate, call Fandrey at 613-728-7582 before Christmas or 613-728-4424 on Christmas Day.