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A new addition to your catalogue of seasonal facts: Mrs. Claus can dab with the best.
And over 150 County residents bore witness to that fact during the first ever IVC Community Holiday Dinner, which took place on Saturday, December 10th at Robin Hood Association. The brainchild of the IVC staff, the idea of holding a community dinner for people who might otherwise be isolated or struggling emotionally or financially at this time of year was a long time in the making. “We had thought about doing this type of event for many years,” explains Susan Mihalievitch, “but this year just seemed like the right time to try to turn our ideas into reality, with the economic downturn being what it is.” “Once we set a date, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus had agreed to make an appearance, there was no turning back,” laughs Mihalievitch, who took on much of the task of organizing the more than 60 volunteers needed to run an event of this scope on a tight schedule and even tighter budget.
A few phone calls from IVC staff to long-time community partners soon saw the pieces falling into place. Robin Hood Association were kind enough to donate the use its space and kitchen to host the more than 80 guests invited for dinner. Safeway contributed a gift card for groceries, and Imperial’s Strathcona Refinery generously brought volunteers to the evening as well as providing a cheque that allowed every child in attendance to take home with a personalized gift at the end of the evening. Tickets for the event were distributed by Strathcona County Family and Community Services as well as by local MLA Annie McKitrick, who also volunteered at the event. Students from Archbishop Jordan sewed dozens of aprons especially for the evening, and IVC’s Teens in Action were on hand as table hosts.
“Without a doubt, this is truly a community event,” Mihalievitch concludes.
“But it was Heartland Housing, and especially the staff at Silver Birch Lodge, who provided one of the key pieces to the evening,” explains Caron Stoltz, who took on the role of kitchen coordinator for the for the evening. “Not only did they put us in contact with their suppliers for the turkeys we needed for the evening, they did a huge amount of prep work and cooking in their kitchens in the days leading up to the event. And on Saturday night, Silver Birch Lodge provided a chef to ensure that everything from turkey to cranberries were of the highest quality. I am not really sure how we would have done it without them,” Stoltz says.
The evening itself was all that IVC staff imagined it could be and more. Volunteers came from as far afield as Bruderheim to do everything from hosting tables to serving food to washing dishes. “The volunteers were incredible,” noted IVC’s Pam Goliath and Le-Ann Ewaskiw. “Everyone involved in the evening went so far above and beyond what they were asked to do. And the way they made all the guests feel right at home for the evening was inspirational in so many ways.”
Not surprisingly, the highlight of the night was the arrival of the Santa and Mrs. Claus. The couple toured the room ensuring that everyone got a special moment to share a wish or snuggle. Settling in under the brightly lit tree, they posed for pictures and conversations for well over an hour. At one point, a family of four girls, all dressed in their holiday best, asked Santa to step aside so that they could get a group picture with Mrs. Claus on her own. Girl power, holiday style.
And then there was the dab. After a brief conversation with a young woman wanting a special picture, Mrs. Claus laughed and nodded in agreement. In the split second before cell phones flashed, both women snapped into the now-classic pose, head down, one arm bent while the other pointed skyward. Another classic holiday moment redefined.
For FCS Director Bree Claude, who volunteered for the evening along with her 9-year-old daughter Sloan, the evening was a special one. “I was moved by how a table of strangers, from completely different backgrounds over the course of one meal together transitioned from strangers to friends. Hugs between everyone as they departed for the evening. There was an amazing spirit in the room. As a volunteer, I could not get to my table guests fast enough to assist them as another dinner guest was already available with a helping hand.” Claude’s favourite moment from the night? A senior and long-time resident of Strathcona County and a 22-year- old recent immigrant from the Philippines taking “selfies” together and becoming friends on Facebook. All smiles as the evening unfolded, Sloan was quick to chime in with her own thought, which captured the entire evening most elegantly. “I loved how after I helped at the dinner, I felt so warm and happy to be a part of it.”
Published originally in The Sherwood Park News on Tuesday, December 13, 2016.