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Making Christmas Special

“Spider” has been going to the Christmas Day Dinner at Communitas for as long as he can remember. He really enjoys the wonderful meal that’s prepared but mostly it’s the little extras that make it so special for him.

“My favourite thing is playing BINGO because I know I’ll get a prize,” he says with a smile. “I also love the singing and the story telling.”

Christmas Day Dinner is a Communitas tradition that has been going on for nearly two decades. The day is organized by Justina Penner, the organization’s chief human resources officer, and Annette Borrows, a former Communitas employee. The two enlist a host of volunteers who prepare a full ham dinner, set the tables with linens, real dishes and cutlery, and entertain their guests with games, stories and song. Everything is done with forethought and attention to detail.

“We try really hard to make our board room like a family home,” Justina says, explaining how volunteers move couches into the room so people can sit in front of the Christmas tree. “For some of the people we serve, Christmas is a hard time and this dinner is the only family experience they will have.”

That is why this dinner is served right on Christmas Day. About 35 people attend each year, not including volunteers. For many of these volunteers, this dinner has become a holiday tradition as well. Annette’s mother, Katie Enns, who is 90 years old, has volunteered since the beginning. She has two very important jobs: she makes sweet and sour meatballs and bakes buns for the meal. When asked why she participates each year, she reflects on her own life experience. Her son was injured in an accident that left him a quadriplegic. She and her husband also cared for two gentlemen in their home, both of whom lived with developmental disabilities. These experiences motivate her to continue to give to others who would otherwise be alone on Christmas Day.

“As long as I can do it, I will,” she says, adding that she’ll be back this year. “I have a heart for people with disabilities.”

Everyone who plays a game is guaranteed a prize and each person who comes to the dinner goes home with a gift. Sevenoaks Shopping Centre has donated gift cards for each attendee. Sue Browning, the manager of the Starbucks at Sevenoaks, and her staff are planning to attend and sing carols. A generous gift from James and Vanessa Epp, through the Adventurer Foundation, helps to cover the cost of Christmas dinner. The game prizes are all donated by individuals, many of them Communitas staff.

Spider realizes that the dinner is the result of the efforts of many people and truly appreciates what they do.

“I know that it’s volunteers who do all the work,” he says. “They make it so special. If I couldn’t come to this dinner, I wouldn’t have anywhere else to go.”

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