For more than 20 years, the folks of Lacombe, Alta., have had the opportunity to attend a free community dinner on Christmas Day. Bethel Christian Reformed Church has spearheaded the event for the last 10 years.
“This event is about having dinner with your neighbors,” said Cora Hoekstra, who has helped run the annual dinner for the last 12 years. “Nobody should analyze why they’re there, other than they desire to enjoy a traditional Christmas dinner with others. From folks who are only one or two people at Christmas to [those from] a few group homes who serve differently abled individuals [all] enjoy dinner with us on Christmas Day. It’s really a wonderful event.”
Attracting about 275 people this year, the event relies on resources from the whole community in addition to Bethel CRC. The Lacombe Memorial Centre, located downtown, is the only local venue large enough to hold the event. Normally not open on statutory holidays, the staff graciously provides space for the free dinner every year. Dozens of volunteers from other Lacombe churches and various neighbors band together to prepare and serve the food. Local grocers often cover most of the food costs; this year, a local realtor stepped up to purchase the nine turkeys that were served.
“We also get donations from the local greenhouse, so there are fresh poinsettias on every table that are given away as door prizes,” Hoekstra said. “Bethel’s GEMS club made 200 ornaments to give as a gift to everyone who comes. Most of the people who serve the dinner are young adults, which is fun. Our volunteer Emcee this year is from our local refugee committee. There is always some music, some carols, and occasionally a game or two. It’s just good stuff.”
Hoekstra has recently become city councilor in Lacombe. She mused at how her involvement with the Community Christmas Dinner over the last decade has impacted her decision to invest in a new way in her city. “I guess it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. This has always been a way for me to serve my community, and maybe because I have been involved in this way, I was moved toward serving in city council.”
Though Hoekstra has, on more than one occasion, considered stepping down from organizing the dinner, her sense is that it’s still an important calling for her and her family. “My husband and I are both blessed with jobs that give us time off at Christmas, which a lot of other people don’t have. In a lot of ways, we see that God has placed us and given us the resources to help us do what we’re doing right now.”
Despite being without a pastor at the moment, Bethel CRC has rallied around this annual event. Megan Den Oudsten, a Bethel member who has volunteered at the dinner for four years, said, “In my opinion, this dinner is an opportunity to come together as community and celebrate with one another. The community dinner is an opportunity for community members to fellowship with one another. I see it as a missional opportunity to share Christ's love and spread the great joy of Christmas.”