(files) Corisa Bell (left) has volunteered with A Christmas Haven for 13 years.

Christmas Haven celebrates 20 years

Held on Dec. 24 from 6-9 p.m. at The ACT in Maple Ridge.

The first time Corisa Bell attended A Christmas Haven, she was part of the entertainment.

Now, 13 years later, she’s still involved, having volunteered in every capacity.

“After that evening I knew I wanted to be even more involved,” said the former city councillor.

“Understanding the meaning behind the event touched my core and the Haven became an instant home for me and my young family. I’ve volunteered in every capacity and I’m still involved all these years later because of the beauty of our community, the people. The stories of our fellow citizens take hold of my heart. It’s different for everyone why they attend or give their time that evening to volunteer and I get goosebumps every time I tell someone about the Haven.”

This year, the Haven celebrates its 20 anniversary.

Christmas Haven 2018 will be held on Dec. 24 from 6-9 p.m. at The ACT in Maple Ridge.

Every Christmas Eve since 1998, a group of community-minded volunteers organize a free, non-denominational, and wheelchair accessible Christmas dinner, promoting a sense of belonging and camaraderie for those that don’t wish to be alone during the Christmas season.

Bell said people from all different walks of life attend and, for one evening, nothing else matters except celebration and being together.

“For a few hours, we step into a magical time away from the complications in life and just get to enjoy each other. I get to be a small part of letting people know they’re loved.”

Every year, about 70 volunteers are needed and Bell said there’s always a waitlist.

“One might think that on Christmas Eve it would be challenging to get volunteers, but we find once you become involved, it’s something people want to be apart of year after year.”

The essence of the Haven is so, on an evening that could otherwise be lonely, everyone comes together to attend a full Christmas celebration with local entertainment, children’s activities including face-painting by Emerald Pig Theatrical Society, and complete with dinner and all the fixings.

“The energy of community and the spirit of Christmas makes it a very special evening for everyone in attendance,” Bell said.

Every guest, adult and child leaves with a gift from Santa.

“It’s really special, for many this is the only gift they’ll be receiving and it’s cherished,” she added.

“To me, there’s no worse feeling on the planet than feeling like you’re all alone.”

As a youth, Bell spent time on the street and in government care.

Not having anywhere to belong to was crippling for her.

“The heart of the Haven is that no one has to be alone.”

As part of the 20th anniversary of the Haven, the steering committee is working with Christina Waschko from Motherpreneur Productions to create a promotional video and keepsake.

As well, a 13-year-old girl who first visited the Haven as in infant in her car seat will attend this year’s event.

“There’s a lot of preparation going into this and we can’t wait to share it,” Bell said.

The event is made possible through local donations, she added.

“And we couldn’t make it possible without the community coming together to ensure this happens every year.”

The free event provides a festive atmosphere for a dinner of turkey and all the fixings, local entertainment, children’s activities, and a visit from Santa.

No reservations are required. Hundreds attend every year.

The Christmas Haven is 100 per cent volunteer-driven, operated by a dedicated steering committee and is only made possible through the outstanding generosity of the community.

Volunteers are collecting gifts for children, as well as teens and adults.

Suggestions for children 11 and under: books, toys.

For teens and adults: toques, scarves, socks, gloves, $5 gift cards for Tim Hortons, MacDonalds and Subway.

Donations can be dropped off at Temptations Salon in Maple Ridge, 22470 Dewdney Trunk Road, and Tuscany Salon and Spa in Pitt Meadows, 19164 McMyn Road.

Monetary donations can be mailed or dropped off at the Christmas Haven office, in the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre, 11925 Haney Place.

• For more details, visit christmashaven.ca.

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