The lights were low and the spirits high as people sat around small tables decorated with flowers enjoying a delicious home-cooked ‘Oktoberfest’ meal. It was the monthly community dinner at St. Mary’s Anglican Church hall and hostesses Terry Shepherd and Elaine Cowan roamed the room greeting people, chatting with volunteers and ensuring that everything was perfect for the approximately 50 guests that come and go during the 4-6 p.m. dinner period.
The two women began the monthly dinners in January, inspired by a visiting Archbishop from Ladner who shared that community’s experience, as well as hearing about the success of annual Thanksgiving dinners in Vancouver.
“We thought that we could do something like that”, said Terry, and they immediately began planning the first meal. “Our first dinner was spaghetti because we weren’t sure how it would go and we wanted to be able to freeze left-overs if we made too much”, she laughed.
The women got the word out with help from Nanoose Community Services volunteers who also assist with meal preparation and clean-up each month. Many of the guests are clients of NCS food program who receive dinner invitations during ‘client day’, and a notice was placed in the Nanoose Business Services Directory.
“The dinners are for everyone and anyone”, Terry and Elaine emphasized. “People who come are not necessarily limited income earners, they may be by themselves and lonely and look forward to the chance to mingle with neighbours and socialize”, said Terry. “We wanted to provide a comfortable and soothing place for them to enjoy a nice dinner, listen to soft music and meet new people”. The women are delighted that new people are arriving each month as friends invite friends and people hear about it.
“The music is wonderful…. it’s all the songs I know”, exudes one guest as she and two companions finish off their dessert to the easy listening tunes of organist Graham Gates, a local musician who also provides the music for St. Mary’s Church. “It’s no fun eating alone, and the food and people here are all wonderful. I hope to come regularly”, she adds.
The food is prepared by Elaine and Terry along with volunteers from the church parish and community at large. The main dish is prepared at the church hall with side dishes and desserts often donated by local people. The women make a point of ensuring meals are always balanced and nutritious with fresh and colorful vegetables and variety of meats.
They like to spice it up by having theme nights with ethnic specialties. There was a Greek night recently and coming up will be Italian and Scandinavian nights. “It’s fun to research recipes from different countries and it adds a flair to the meals”, Terry says.
Some local businesses and donors have been generous, one providing $50 monthly for food and another providing the pasta for Italian night. The guests themselves will often make a donation on dinner nights. “Between the volunteers and donations we just about break even, enabling us to cover the $150-$200 it costs per dinner”, said Elaine.
The women emphasize that no food is wasted. “Either the left-overs are used in a subsequent meal or we freeze it for distribution to people in the community who need it”, they explain.
“We live in a have and have-not community”, Terry points out, “so we need to help one another out at times. This is not a soup kitchen, it’s just a free and easy way for neighbours to get together over a good meal, socialize and have some fun”, she says. Her guests agree wholeheartedly.