COVER STORY: North Shore Christmas lunch plans
“It’s just like a giant family dinner really,” explains Lisa Hubbard, executive director of the North Shore Neighbourhood House.
She’s talking about the non-profit’s annual Christmas lunch, which will be turning 17 on Dec. 25th.
And while the popular annual holiday event certainly has a family-style feel, organizers continue to have to put out extra tables and cutlery for the growing gathering.
It started with 40 guests; this year they expect 200, or more. To serve that many people, the kitchen staff goes through mountains of mashed potatoes, tons of turkey and gallons of gravy.
Along with the lunchtime feast, guests are invited to sing Christmas carols and are treated to a visit from Santa Claus and other holiday-themed entertainment.
Many volunteers and guests have been circling this event on their calendar for years. Some arrive for the lunch hours before the smell of turkey and the fixings starts wafting through the room just to sip coffee and tea and chat. One year, a lunch guest asked to borrow an organizer’s cellphone so he could call his family in Eastern Canada to excitedly let them know he was enjoying a home-cooked Christmas meal. There are also love stories: One couple who met for the first time at the Christmas lunch is now married.
“Really, it’s become tradition for volunteers and the people who come in,” says Hubbard of the lunch.
Lisa Hubbard still vividly recalls the first Christmas lunch the North Shore Neighbourhood House hosted nearly two decades ago.
She remembers peeling a lot of potatoes that year. She also remembers the real joy it brought to the faces of the guests.
“They were just so pleased,” she says.
Hubbard and a former Neighbourhood House employee, Lisa Carter, got the idea to host the lunch because they saw a need for a place for people to gather on Christmas Day.
“Sometimes people just don’t have a place to go,” explains Hubbard, noting that there aren’t many options on Dec. 25th, especially if you don’t have family around.
The lunch started modestly. That first year, Hubbard got a $250 donation for the food from her parents, Trudy and Ernie, and her dad also agreed to play Santa at the lunch after his daughter presented him with a hand-stitched red suit.
Originally the lunch was geared for seniors but the demographic has morphed over the years. Now on Christmas day at Neighbourhood House, along with a large contingent of elderly diners, the room is also filled with children and young families and many new immigrants.
“It started so small and so simple,” says Hubbard.
“Because of that it was able to grow and not get over the top. Over the years it’s just increased [to meet the need]. It’s a simple thing and it makes a huge difference.”
For the past 14 years Dennis and Carolyn have worked the kitchen during the Neighbourhood House’s annual lunch. But the North Vancouver couple, who come with 30 years experience in the restaurant industry, doesn’t volunteer their time for the accolades.
In fact, they don’t even want their last name published for this article. They just want to “do something for other people.”
“We’ve been blessed. It’s great fun,” they say.
“It’s magic time,” adds the couple, who will be retiring from their kitchen duties this year.
They enjoy seeing the same faces each year, along with some new ones and meeting recent immigrants who are curious to understand more about the holiday customs in their new country.
Carolyn notes with a smile that for many new Canadians it’s the first time they see cranberries.
Volunteers like Dennis and Carolyn and generous community donors are the reason the lunch has been such a success through the years. To pull it off, a small army of volunteers is required — around 60 in total, some of whom are Neighbourhood House employees who volunteer their time. Hubbard says the event wouldn’t be possible without all the community goodwill.
Many of the volunteers have been helping out for years, from 12-year-old James Celmainis who has volunteered for the past five years setting up the evening before the lunch to Neighbourhood House supervisor of maintenance Arnel Auyong who’s pitched in with the set-up crew for a decade. Or there’s the Roy family, who have been dishing out the desserts for years — to name just a few.
Hubbard, meanwhile, can’t wait for Tuesday’s lunch.
“It’s a total highlight of the year, for sure. Whether it’s seeing the volunteers or returning participants. It is just all over a happy event.”
To make a donation to the North Shore Neighbourhood House: 225 East 2nd Street or call 604-987-8138.