It began as a way for people who were alone on Christmas to have a place to have a meal and enjoy a bit of company.
“I know what it’s like to be alone at Christmas,” said Ginger Shoji, of the annual Community Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day. “When I first moved to Vancouver I hadn’t met my husband yet. All of my friends were going home for Christmas and I didn’t have enough money to go back to Ontario to see my family.”
When Shoji started the dinner 20 years ago, it was for Revelstoke residents who were alone over the holiday. That hasn’t changed over the years, although occasionally Shoji says people who are stranded on the highway, or who may be here just for the season will stop by. However, she is quick to point out that these people usually leave a donation on the table.
The first year the event took place in the United Church Basement and had 26 people attend. Last year, a total of 300 meals were cooked (some of those were delivered to people who were not mobile enough to make it to the actual dinner).
After 20 years, however, Shoji is stepping away from organizing the dinner. It’s not the first time she’s said she’s calling it quits, so she has family members coming all the way from Germany just to make sure.
“I started when I was 45 and this is our 20th year. I’ve been saying I’m going to let it go for years, but nobody is stepping up to the plate,” said Shoji, who even offered to have someone interested in organizing the event shadow her this year. No one responded to her offer.
“Next year will be difficult if no one does it. I know the people who come really look forward to it. It’s a happy place and people are glad to be there,” she said.
Shoji did get a bit of a break for two years when other organizers stepped forward – one year Melanie Melnyk took the reigns and another year Bernie Brown helped make the annual event happen – but other than that she’s been at the helm, so to speak, since the beginning.
Despite the efforts that go along with organizing, Shoji is quick to point out that it is the volunteers who actually do all the work. This year, Emo’s is donating 100 pounds of potatoes, each of the new council members are donating turkeys, Pathfinders has taken the time to decorate the Frontier Restaurant where the dinner is being held, and Team Gloria is making sure Santa Claus will make a special appearance. That’s not mentioning the volunteers who cook the meals, provide transportation to people who want to come to the dinner, and take meals to people whose mobility issues prevent them from actually attending.
“Anybody can do it (the organizing). I’ve done it for 20 years and I’m always worried about having enough volunteers, or having too much food and not enough people, but it all works out,” said Shoji. “Everything always falls into place and Matt (Singh) and his family are incredibly kind-hearted and generous people.”
Without the use of the Ol’ Frontier Restaurant, Shoji says it would be incredibly difficult as it would mean needing to set up tables and chairs, as well as taking them down afterwards.
Still, she admits it will be hard to give up the organizing.
“It’s not an easy thing, but I’ve gotten to the point where I’m slowing down. My energy level isn’t what it used to be. I think I’m at that point where I have to let go. Someone can step in,” she said. “I feel if I close this door I open the door for someone who has the excitement and energy and vision of how they could improve things.”
This year’s Community Christmas Dinner takes place Thursday, December 25, at the Frontier Restaurant from 1–3 p.m. If you need a ride or would like to volunteer, call Ginger at 250-837-4101 or 250-837-4129.