It’s a snowy Friday night in December, the kind where every sound seems muffled and the dark is cut by a preternatural glow emanating from the soft, white blanket covering every inch of the city. It’s tranquil, soothing. Almost otherworldly.
Inside the Kennedy Seniors Recreation Centre it’s a whole other story. The room is a bustle of chatter, music and movement as two dozen volunteers from Kennedy’s Sports Pub wrap presents and fill boxes with donated food.
For over two decades, the pub’s patrons have taken upon themselves to make sure as many of their neighbours as possible are able to have a proper Christmas, including presents and a real turkey dinner, and this year the pub raised $21,145, enough to sponsor 30 families in need.
Family is a word the comes up frequently when talking to tonight’s volunteers. In fact, the first impression upon walking into the room is one of ball-busting familiarity and affection. People tease each other from across the room as they count out cans of soup or eyeball lengths of gift wrap.
It might be below freezing outside, but in here it couldn’t be warmer.
Ed Kennedy and pal Umberto share a laugh as they divvy out donated food into individual care packages. Photo credit: Shiela Thiele
“It’s a neighbourhood pub and everybody here cares for everyone here, and they care for the families in the neighbourhood,” says longtime pub patron Ed Kennedy. “We have a lot of fun and banter at the pub, and when it comes to this, it’s all about what we can do for the kids out there and the people that are less fortunate.”
Kennedy, like many of the volunteers, has participated in the event for 20-odd years. Many have travelled to make it here tonight, from other parts of the Lower Mainland as well as places much further afield.
Tracy Comber, who helped start the event 25 years ago, now lives in Penticton, but doesn’t let that stop her from coming to help out every year or from making the trip down for the various fundraising events during the year leading up to this night. She says the event is just as important and rewarding now as it was a quarter century ago.
“I don’t know that that much has changed. It’s always been a community thing where people get together and they help each other and everybody puts in their heart and soul,” Comber says. “We still did the same amount of families back then, but we did it in the back of the warehouse over at the Safeway. It was spooky [but] it was fun.”
Far from a one-night affair, the whole pub family contributes year-round to make this a success. One man named Cookie (“Just Cookie,” he says) holds an annual pig roast at Kennedy’s. Another, Candy (real name this time) Buckley- Parker brings in fresh baked cookies every Thursday and runs the meat draw every Saturday.
Candy Buckley-Parker is all smiles as she wraps presents destined for families in need this Christmas. Photo credit: Shiela Thiele
Anytime there’s an event at the pub, they sell 50/50 tickets to help support the Christmas care packages. And every November, the pub holds its annual fundraiser dinner, complete with door prizes and silent auction items donated by local businesses.
“It goes all year long. It’s not just one person…It’s a community effort,” Comber says.
Ask around and you’ll find that what keeps these people coming back year after year after year is the difference they make to the families they help.
“Seeing the people’s faces actually when they deliver these to the people who are less fortunate, that’s a big one, that is a huge,” Kennedy says. “It’s just seeing the joy. You don’t realise how lucky you are. You really don’t.”
“It’s that big smile on the kids’ faces,” says Cookie. “It sometimes turns your heart the other way and makes you teary. It’s an experience, but it’s fun to do. I’m glad to be part of the group.”
Bar manager Sue Boyd says many of the people they help come back in subsequent years and pay that kindness forward.
“You know what? Even when we deliver, people say, ‘Can we help next year? We really want to help,’” Boyd says. “They’re like, ‘We had a bad year, but next year’s gonna be better and we really want to help.’ It’s really nice.”
As the night winds down, one volunteer who made the trek from Princeton sums up exactly what makes the event special.
“We’re not giving hand-outs, we’re giving a hands-up. This is what Christmas is all about.”