....OK, not another year, but another Christmas at least.
Like last year, I spent Christmas Day volunteering at a local community centre which was laying on Christmas lunch for 50 "less fortunate" people. I put that in quotes simply because I don't know what else to call them. They welcome the homeless, the lonely, the elderly, the disabled and basically anyone else who would have nowhere/no-one else to go to on Christmas Day.
If I'm honest, it was a little disappointing after last year. I realise that I wasn't meant to be entertained, enthused or otherwise kept amused by the entire day but....! Yet again this year, I somehow got roped into organising the tea/coffee/soup etc. Really not sure how especially as I was quite determined not to but somehow I got embroiled in it with the mad (and frankly irritating) Margaret. Dade escaped into the kitchen with the organiser (Martin) and two lovely, eccentric ladies who I'd met last year! Having said we'd both rather be out front with the "guests" I think he got the better end of the bargain - on the drinks counter you don't really get to interact with people, other than to take their order for a drink and say hi briefly, and it gets pretty hectic. Like last year, the volunteers all had lunch at one table so we didn't even get to chat to the others during the meal. Martin said the reason for this was to give the volunteers "a break" but, to be honest, I didn't feel like there was anything to have a break from (except Margaret!)
The community centre itself is attached to a church but at some point in the last year, the minister and her family had relocated to Scotland and the church now shares its minister with a church in Eastbourne. That church obviously had a tighter grip on him this year and that's where he'd gone to give the morning service, so this church was minister-less for the morning at least. Consequently, there was no mini-service at the beginning of the proceedings as there had been last year, just a CD of carols. Most of the people didn't show up until about 12 for a 12.30 lunch so there wasn't much socialising to do in advance either.
Lunch, as last year, was very tasty. There was turkey/stuffing, mash, roasties, sprouts, carrots, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, gravy. The vegetarians had a goat's cheese and cranberry pastry thing (though no veggie gravy which was disappointing, for me at least). A pretty light and scrummy Christmas pudding followed, though with a very odd white custard that I couldn't really identify this year any more than last. Being a church hall, there was no alcohol, officially at least. However, a very lovely Irish disabled lady had brought a bottle of fake Bailey with her, mainly for her to drink but the remainder of the bottle she was insistent that the volunteers drank! We were very grateful, but had to be a bit surreptitious with it!
The minister did show up in time to make a short speech at the end of lunch, thanking the organiser etc and letting everyone know that there would be a present for each of them at the end of the meal. Unfortunately, what he failed to point out was that after lunch everyone was welcome to stick around just to chat and also for entertainment. One of the other volunteers had a couple of songs organised, I know one of the women told a story last year, I'd taken my guitar and Dade and I had a couple of very silly sketches planned (and even semi-rehearsed!) Added to the lack of warning of any entertainment, one of the volunteers (mentioning no names) started to clear the tables very obviously right at the end of dessert, to the point that clearly several people felt that they were being ushered out. By 3pm the place was empty and all the washing up, clearing up and rearranging of furniture was done. So no entertainment required which I'll readily admit I was kind of disappointed about. Very odd, given that we'd finished at nearly 5pm last year.
I'm going to sound, I don't know what, now - snobby? Not sure that's the right word. However, I sort of envisaged the people who would come to these things would generally be the homeless, the extremely poor and the elderly who really had nowhere else to go, no family etc. I noticed last year that there were a few people who I didn't think quite fitted the bill but this year was definitely more obvious. There were a couple of genuinely homeless guys, both of whom I'd met last year, and maybe three or four older people who probably had nowhere else to be. The rest of the places, however, were taken up with pairs/groups of people who seemed, to me at least, either too well-off, too connected or otherwise unlikely! Maybe I'm doing them a grave disservice, but it just seemed to me that a lot of them didn't NEED to be at a community centre on Christmas Day, enjoying a totally free 3-course meal. I readily admit that maybe a lot of them were there simply for the company, rather than the food and, frankly, who am I to judge?
All that aside, I really enjoyed the day and would happily to do it again. In fact, at the end of the proceedings, the organiser asked me if I'd be interested in being part of a small committee organising next year's event. I have to admit that I have reservations. I do feel a little hypocritical getting over-involved in a church event when I'm a self-proclaimed atheist. I'm sure they don't really care but maybe I should. Having said that, the day needs better organisation and (I think) it needs to target different groups for next year. I felt sorry for Martin, the organiser, as he'd pretty much put it all together it himself and, without the help of a minister, that was probably a bit of an ordeal. Consequently, if it doesn't look like it's going to be too church-related, then I'll happily help out with organising next year's event. For the time being, it certainly looks like I'll be here for it.
All told, and infuriating (and, I discovered, uninvited) volunteers aside, I'm still glad I did it again this year and I'd highly recommend the same kind of thing to anyone who really doesn't view the 25th of December as necessarily a day to over-indulge in vast quantities of food and drink, and get caught up in the obscene commercialisation of what is, in effect, a religious celebration which has become almost an obsession for society, and not for the right reasons!