It looks like a cherished Christmas tradition will be going ahead after all.
Less a week after it was announced the annual Community Christmas dinner would have to be cancelled after the Fort Frances Volunteer Bureau was unable to find a chef able to take on the commitment, a local family and business are stepping in to keep the dinner alive.
Cousins Dana and Stacey Cridland announced that the Cridland family, in conjunction with Flint House, will be putting on the Christmas dinner at the Knox United Church here in town.
Stacey is a manager at the Scott Street restaurant, as well as the daughter of owners Duane and Grace Cridland, which puts the pair—and the entire family—in the perfect position to help the dinner succeed, something they said the whole family recognized.
“We all saw it in the paper on Friday,” Dana recalled, referring to an article on front page of the Thursday, Nov. 28 edition of the Bulletin.
“And then that Friday night, a lot of our family was together for another function, something unrelated. We all kind of got together and saw that it was cancelled and we thought, 'We have enough of us, there's enough of us in our family, we can definitely get everything together and make it happen,'” she noted.
“We're always together on Christmas,” Stacey added.
“We have Christmas dinner together on Christmas day anyway, so we just thought, 'Let's instead do it for someone else,'” she added.
In the short amount of time that the Cridlands have been committed to putting on the dinner, they said they've heard from or been in contact with plenty of people who are willing to lend their help, or even just their past experience, in planning out the tasks ahead of them.
“There's a few other people who we have contacts for,” Stacey said.
“People from previous years who have done it that are going to help us with planning out what they have done the previous years. We do have a couple other hands to help us.”
Dana noted that she's heard from other people who were disappointed the original plans for the dinner fell through. Though no one was able to step forward to take on the cooking, many people were hoping to help out in other ways.
“Lots of people that do it regularly, every year, have said that they still want to continue to help and be a part of it,” she said.
“I think the main thing they were missing was the cooks, and we're definitely prepared to help out.”
“I went to an auxiliary meeting with the ladies at the Knox United Church yesterday,” Stacey added.
“There are about six ladies and all of them as well, they were all hands on deck, prepared to help. They were very surprised to see that it was cancelled as well. With the amount of people who help out throughout the church anyway, there are already 15 people in the church who help, so they do have people. But like Dana said, it was the cooks that they didn't have.”
The family is certainly in the position to help on the cooking front as they will have both the kitchen at the Knox United Church as well as the one at the Flint House available to them if they need it.
“They do have a nice kitchen at the Knox United Church, but obviously we do have a commercial kitchen here as well, so we'll use the oven space from both places,” Stacey said.
“They've done it at the Knox United Church before in previous years and they've only used that space, so they have done it and it is doable, but I'm sure we will be using this kitchen [at the Flint House] as well.”
As the Community Christmas Dinner is generally well attended, the Cridlands are in the process of collecting donations in order to have all of the bases for the dinner covered before they need to start cooking.
“Donations can be made through Community Living,” Dana said.
“So if anybody wants to make a donation, you can go to Community Living and drop it off there. They can provide donation receipts as well.”
Dana noted that Community Living will only be accepting monetary donations, and those donations will need to be made out to Community Living Fort Frances and District with a memo stating that it is for the Community Christmas Dinner.
The annual “Stuff-A-Cruiser” campaign, which runs this Saturday, will be collecting donations of non-perishable food items that will go towards the Christmas dinner.
There are still plenty of details to be figured out before Christmas day, but both Dana and Stacey are confident they will be able to work everything out with the help of their family and volunteers in order to hold a successful dinner.
“We do have lots of time,” Stacey said.
“We're not hard on time. We just fed 300 people last Friday through Flint and we're going to do it again this Friday through Flint, so it's not something that we haven't done before.”
“It's not the first rodeo, but there's lots of people that are in need of this and rely on this dinner every year,” Dana added.
“It's a huge part of our community and we were all really disappointed to see it be cancelled, and so we're really excited to make sure it still happens and continues on.”
The dinner will still need plenty of volunteers to help outside of the kitchen in different capacities, and anyone who is willing to give their time on Christmas day is being asked to call Dana at 275-5499.