More than 300 people gathered at the Alberni Athletic Hall over three hours on Christmas Day to eat a dinner provided by the community. Taking Care Of…Uu-a-thluk Community Dinner was a culmination of determination among a group of volunteers, led by Jeff Cook, Kimmie MacDonald and her sister Val Bellwood, and the food preparation by Brian Calm of The Pizza Factory and his team.
The Hupacasath First Nation lent their bus as a free shuttle to bring people to the dinner and home again following the Alberni Valley’s heaviest snowfall of the season.
Fifty meals were delivered to West Coast General Hospital for staff members who worked over Christmas, and there were some police officers and firefighters who dropped into the dinner as well. Calm provided meals to paramedics at the ambulance station beside his restaurant.
More than 25 sponsors and donors, both businesses and individuals, donated cash, food, gifts and in-kind services for everyone, and at least 90 volunteers helped at every step—including decorating the hall, Cook said.
“I really want to give a thank you to the Pizza Factory for cooking everything,” he said. Brian Calm closed the restaurant on Dec. 24 so he and his crew, and volunteers from Little Valley Deli and Bucksnorts could cook 26 turkeys—all donated—as well as all the fixings for Christmas dinner.
“Without him we would have been a little more dysfunctional, having to spread out cooking facilities,” Cook said. “That was an awfully big commitment on his part. I commend him for that.”
Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns attended the dinner before heading to Parksville for a similar event. “This has really given the people a gift of love and hope at a time of the year when it can be very difficult for people who are far away from their families or alone,” he said.
“I am really honoured to be invited to attend and share this meal with others.”
Cook said the core group of volunteers is already discussing whether to hold a community dinner again next year. “The group was really gratified seeing the smiles on people’s faces that were there,” he said. “It makes it a lot easier to say maybe.”
— With files from Sonja Drinkwater, Alberni Valley News