Christmas Haven, Maple Ridge’s one-of-a-kind Dec. 24 community holiday celebration, is marking its 25th year this Christmas Eve.
Volunteers from the city serve up Christmas cheer and turkey dinner to hundreds of people who might otherwise have a much less festive holiday season.
Organizer Alyson Cuthbertson remembers giving a senior a present, and the woman telling her “I’m not opening my gift now – it’s the only one I have under my tree.”
It was a reminder of what the event means to those attending.
“It’s a very unique event, and it’s very heartwarming,” said Cuthbertson, the chairperson of the organizing committee.
“It’s for people who don’t want to be alone at Christmas.”
There are three key organizers leaving, and the group needs more volunteers, but the remaining members plan to keep it going. She said the high levels of organization in her committee, and the way the community gets behind the project, has made it easy to pull off.
“We’ve got it down to a science, and there’s so much support that it’s hard not to do it,” she said.
“For a little work, the impact is huge.”
Christmas Haven is once again scheduled for Dec. 24, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at The Act Arts Centre.
There will be three seatings for turkey dinner with all the trimmings, provided by Whisk Catering. They can seat 90 people at a time, and last year there were almost three full seatings, with 240 people attending.
After turkey, those attending can enjoy local entertainment including Norden the Magician, musician Peter Tam, and more. They can help themselves to the dessert bar. Local businesses with sweets and pastries to spare offer up their goodies before they close for Christmas, and volunteers collect them to stock the dessert bar.
The visitors can capture some memories in a self-serve photo booth. Santa and Mrs. Claus will also be there for photos. There are gifts like warm toques and scarves that are now being knit by volunteers. Kids will get a new toy, and always a book. There is also crafts and face painting for kids.
The community support has the event in good financial shape, Cuthbertson said. Fundraisers have been arranged by The Reach Pub, including Monday night football 50/50 draws and an upcoming pub night on Dec. 2. She said the Rotary and Kiwanis service clubs, and Vancity Credit Union have also been key supporters.
“It takes the worry from the committee knowing there’s financial support,” said Cuthbertson.
There are about 45 volunteers at the event, and she said another 25 are needed. They will help in the dining room setting tables and pouring water, greet newcomers, work with kids doing crafts and other miscellaneous jobs.
Cuthbertson said it was easy to get pulled into the event as a volunteer 10 years ago.
“There was an energy, and that energy hasn’t stopped.”
For information about volunteering or donating, message firstname.lastname@example.org.