Maple Ridge’s annual Christmas Haven gave some holiday cheer to 289 people on Christmas Eve, and for some it would have otherwise been one of the loneliest nights of the year.
Alyson Cuthbertson, in her second year as chair of the Haven, said it is a credit to the community that it puts on a charity event on such a festive night.
Held at The Act, and in its 17th year, the Christmas Haven offers local entertainment, a traditional turkey dinner prepared by the Caring Place, a visit from Santa and everyone gets a gift.
“Look around at our neighbouring communities, and you can go a long way before funding a community that puts on an event on Christmas Eve,” she said.
Cuthbertson, her husband Mike and their two children, both young adults, have been spending their Christmas Eve with the Haven for the past three years.
“We’ve got the bug,” she said.
Cuthbertson said it is obvious to volunteers that they are making a difference at the Dec. 24th event.
“It’s the smiles we’re putting on people’s faces – there’s lots of value there.”
Marilynn MacDonald and her husband Len have both volunteered for the annual charity for six years, and up to this year, their daughter and two grandchildren joined them.
“I think it was really good for them,” she said of her grandchildren. “It teaches children not to be selfish.”
She organizes rides for seniors to and from the dinner before the event, and on the night of the Haven she serves coffee, tea and deserts.
She said there is no real demographic that the Christmas Haven serves. She sees seniors, single people, some street people, new immigrants who want to experience a traditional Christmas, families – anyone can attend.
“It’s people who don’t want to be alone, and want to share the evening with somebody,” MacDonald said.
“It’s the hardest time for people who are alone.”
She said there was an elderly man carrying his still-wrapped gift around. She asked him if he was going to open it. He responded that it would be the only gift he would get that year, so he was going to save it for Christmas Day.
“That went right into my heart.”
The event requires 75 volunteers to give their time on Christmas Eve, but there is always a waiting list of people who want to get involved.
“They all say they want to give back,” said Cuthbertson, “to do something meaningful at Christmas.”