The kitchen at Crossroads United Church is a flurry of activity as about a dozen volunteers portion out the salad, drain the pasta and fill cups of juice.
In the adjoining room, long communal tables are being set up as hungry patrons trickle in, greeting each other warmly as gregarious chatter fills the space.
Outside it’s a torrentially rainy evening. The downpour and umbrella-flipping wind makes the scene inside all the more cozy, its fogged-up windows offering a warm refuge from the West Coast elements.
And this Christmas Eve, the crew at Crossroads is doing it all again as part of its free monthly community dinner service.
When the Reporter visited Crossroads last month, volunteer dinner coordinator and head chef Jason Hodgins, who works as a teacher by day, was busy in the kitchen, stirring sauce and placing racks of Swedish meatballs in the oven. Though he doesn’t have any formal training, Hodgins does have a lot of experience cooking for large groups of people.
“I have a large family!”
Hodgins said they rotate through about 14 meals, learning tips and tricks along the way, and serve somewhere between 130 to 140 people each meal, including volunteers.
“Personally, it’s important to me to do something in the community,” he said. “We started this five years ago with a group of people saying, ‘This church needs to be more relevant to the community around it.’ There are people who have real needs and people were very energized by the idea of doing something tangible.”
He said the dining room is organized to be as welcoming as possible.
“When people come in, they’re not just coming to be fed, they’re coming to eat and they’re coming to share a meal.”
Rev. Cari Copeman-Haynes said the community dinners – which launched in January 2012 – are a vital part of what the church wanted to do as a renewed presence in North Delta following the re-purposing of the building in 2011 and completion of its community kitchen.
The free monthly dinners are held on the fourth Saturday of each month and are open to all who could benefit from a hot meal and good company.
“It’s been not only responding to Jesus’ command to serve the hungry and feed the folks who need that, but also in response to a sense of loneliness and isolation that exists in urban and suburban community,” she said. “So [it’s] not just a healthy, delicious, nutritious dinner, but community around the table and welcome and acceptance for people as they are.”
She said many who come to have a meal feel isolated, including seniors and single parents, so to make them feel welcome the meals are served right to the guests instead of via a soup-line format.
“It’s just that much more respectful and really has a lovely family atmosphere.”
Copeman-Haynes said church members are also encouraged to attend and host a table, and that there has been fantastic support from the wider community, including the North Delta Rotary Club and the Delta Scottsdale Lions. The Lions sponsor two dinners a year, including the November meal.
“We’re trying to keep a lot of our work local,” said Lions member Sue Joys, who helped out at the dinner alongside other club members.
Eighty-two-year-old kitchen volunteer George Garrett has lent his time at the dinners, and in other church functions, for the last few years after first visiting the church with his wife in 2009.
“It’s the spirit of Christ, and it’s the spirit that’s instilled in these people. They are dedicated to the community,” he said. “Everybody pitches in and it’s a good feeling.”
He said a lot of effort is put into planning and preparing the menu for what he describes as gourmet meals.
“This is something special for them. They get a good meal [and] we try to make them feel as welcome as we can.”
A retired journalist, Garrett said the experience is also rewarding for him as a volunteer.
“Each time I learn something new,” he said. “I’ve met many friends here.”
This month’s community dinner will take place on Dec. 24 at 5 p.m., with doors opening at 4:30 p.m. There will also be Christmas Eve church services at 4:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Copeman-Haynes admitted it will be a busy evening.
“It’ll be an adventure!”