Community Christmas serves 150 dinners

A warm hug and a warm dinner: Sherrie Mitchell

By Adam Jackson

About 150 disparate residents of Ponoka and district had an opportunity to celebrate together on Christmas Day.

The Ponoka Community Christmas, which has been organized by Sherrie Mitchell for more than 15 years, helps people of all ages who don’t have a place to go for Christmas dinner or just cannot afford it. Whatever the reason, everyone is more than welcome to join the celebration.

When guests entered the Kinsmen Community Centre, they were greeted by smiling and accepting volunteers of all ages. They were encouraged to sign a guestbook as well as hang an ornament on a tree to symbolize the whole community celebrating Christmas together.

When they sat down at the table, there was candy and fruit available before the dinner, provided by the many generous donations from local businesses. Included on the table as well, for each attendee, was a small gift and a personally signed Christmas card.

At 1 p.m., after grace, a small army of volunteers served dinner. The volunteers not only serve the food, but help set up the community centre, and cook the food. Available was turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes as well as many other side dishes.

Many generous families and individuals volunteered to help others. The Gerein family, which includes a mother, father, teenage daughter and toddler son, volunteered for the event after seeing a story in the Ponoka News.

“Usually we’re away or entertaining (on Christmas Day), but this year we weren’t so we wanted to help,” said the mother of the family, who wished to remain anonymous, “the amount of community support for this event amazes me.”

The first Community Christmas was organized by Mitchell, after she was working at a gas station on Christmas Day and saw oil workers come in who were away from home and had nowhere to go for Christmas. In November the next year, Mitchell decided to do something about it and started asking for corporate donations to help fund a community dinner. She then went to town hall, told them her plans and asked the town to donate a hall.

Fifteen years later, the event is still a success due to hard work by volunteers as well as Mitchell. Being the modest person she is, Mitchell claims that she could not organize the event without the help of the many volunteers as well as the corporate donors.

Paulette Wigston, who has been volunteering for three years, has a strong opinion of Mitchell. “She’s an angel. To take this on for as long as she has is amazing.”

It has not always been easy for Mitchell though. Four years ago, she was involved in an automobile accident that landed her in the hospital for three months and forced her to spend half of her time in a wheelchair.

“My body was basically mush,” said Mitchell.

She did not let that hold her back though, as she continued organizing the dinner. She is often referred to as an angel by guests and volunteers for her hard work in ensuring that everyone has a place to go for Christmas.

The effect of the community dinner and Mitchell’s generosity was clearly seen in the faces of everyone attending. Their faces were full of Christmas spirit, and their stomachs were full. The event was another success.

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