A very special Christmas tradition for many people in the community is once again underway as organizers prepare for the 15th annual Community Christmas Dinner on December 25 at the Morrisburg Legion.
Each year on Christmas Day, this very special event is arranged by the Apple Tree Ministry of St. James Anglican Church in Morrisburg and brought to its delicious conclusion by a huge number of volunteers “for people who need people”.
The Apple Tree Ministry began in the early 1990s under Rev. Bill Byers and then Pastoral Assistant Pat Martin who was ordained in 2000. Its early mandate was to raise funds for the local food bank, and one of its first outreach programs was Martha’s Kitchen for young and single moms.
For that program, Jane Lee who, with her husband Nick, has been involved with the Apple Tree Ministry since its inception, explains that “we brought in a food advisor to talk about nutritious meals and how to cook them. Then we cooked the meal and participants took the food home.”
Although Martha’s Kitchen is thriving today, it has evolved into a once weekly ‘soup’ luncheon for ‘anyone and everyone’ in the community.
“Pat Martin started the Christmas dinner for ‘people who needed people’,” recalls Lee. “It was a natural progression from Martha’s Kitchen.”
Lee remembers the challenges of the first year. “We had no idea how many people would come. We tried to get people to register, but some just showed up. We probably fed about 80 that first year and then the next year we served 100. The highest number we have ever had is 200.”
The Community Christmas Dinner includes the traditional turkey with all the fixings, a visit from Santa with gifts for the children, and music which, for a good 10 years was provided by Betty Barkley and her band.
“The Legion generously provides us the hall at no cost, and we spend the whole day there, the day before getting ready.”
As much of the food as is possible is prepared ahead. “We arrange for as many as 30 pies to be made by the church community and people cook the turkeys the day before in their homes. Some people donate the turkeys and others donate their time to cook them.”
After 14 years and countless lists, the preparation, the cooking, the service and the cleanup are now “down to a science”.
“It’s wonderful,” says Lee who coordinated the dinner for its first 10 years. “Every item of food is donated. Some of our volunteers show up as early as 8 a.m. on Christmas day to start the dressing. By the time the cleanup is finished it’s about 3 p.m. when they are finished.”
Considering that it is Christmas Day, it is amazing that “we get so many helpers it is hard to find jobs for everybody to do. It’s Christmas time, and they want to be part of it.”
The dinner attracts people of all ages. Children come with their moms and dads and whole families have come. Many are older people, some of whom have been coming year after year.
Anglican Church minister, Rev. Sue McCullough experienced her first Community Christmas Dinner last year.
“To me it’s people living Christmas and the message that we proclaim but have a reluctance to act upon. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s great to see the people enjoy a good meal and enjoy some fun and fellowship. Going and being there last year kind of rejuvenated me.”
When Rev. Martin left the area, Shirley Testerink took over as the Ministry’s coordinator.
While Martha’s Kitchen and Community Christmas Dinner are the better known programs of the Apple Tree Ministry, Testerink explains, “the heart of the Apple Tree Ministry is the behind the scenes things. We are an unofficial advocate for people. We quietly reach out to help people. Sometimes it’s the elderly, sometimes it’s children and sometimes it is the working poor.”
And sometimes the help is as simple as cooking a turkey…or making a pie for ‘people who need people’ .
That is especially true for those who without the Community Christmas Dinner might otherwise spend Christmas day alone.
Reservations for this year’s 15th annual Community Christmas Dinner can be made by calling 613-543-0722 by December 20. There is no charge but free will offerings are accepted. Limited transportation is available.