A very large dinner party

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on December 17, 2013
Richard Rogers (right) gave a community Christmas dinner Monday. Among those entertaining was Terry Rielly. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

Several striking Labatt workers left their pickets for a different line Monday - outside the kitchen at a community hall to help St. John's lawyer Richard Rogers serve Christmas dinner.
"We wanted to give back to the community," said Frank O'Leary, president of NAPE Local 7004, which represents brewery workers who went on strike in July.

"The community has been very good to us."

"It's great to do some volunteer work," said Spencer Bugden, as he helped O'Leary and others assemble treat bags for the guests.

Rogers of Rogers Bussey invited about 200 people through groups such as Newfoundland and Labrador Housing community centres, Iris Kirby House and a number of others to the Knights of Columbus hall in central St. John's.

Rogers started the dinners four years ago as a way of being personally involved, rather than just signing a cheque.

"I wanted to have a reach within the community, have a bigger impact," he said over the bustle of pianist Terry Rielly's music and the crowd of seniors and families settling down to long rows of tables.

At the end of one row, Mike Ince, wearing a Santa hat and a Bob Marley T-shirt, and Tori Lee said they don't have family around so they'll go to a couple of community dinners they've been told about.

A few rows over, expectant mother Tristan Goodmanson said she found out about the event at the Froude Community Centre.

"It's nice. There's lots of people," she said. "When I'm unemployed I frequent the soup kitchens. It's great to socialize.'

As David Ryan and the Singing Legionnaires waited to perform, he remarked a number of people he knows from a food bank he volunteers at had come for dinner, proving the need for such events.

"It's so beautiful just to see the young children," he said.

Nearby a woman beaming with happiness cradled her young son. This year, she sought help from the Iris Kirby House shelter for abused women and is now in a place of her own and looking forward to a peaceful, positive Christmas.

"It's my first time. I really like the atmosphere," she said of the dinner.

Iris Kirby staff member Yvonne Steiner said such events provide not only a social opportunity, but a meal many may find hard to afford.

Single mother Amanda Lahey, who came from Chalker Place with sons Brandon and Riley, was also smiling.

She said she's managed to put aside money from her food service job throughout the year for Christmas and was enjoying the entertainment with her sons.

Chef Derm Bradbury of the Compass Group was supervising the volunteer kitchen staff, which included Sheraton chefs Greg Preshyon and Angie Ryan.

They prepared 16 15-kilogram turkeys, 100 pounds of potatoes, 80 pounds of turnips and other trimmings, all provided by Rogers.

Glenn Roil, a St. John's outreach worker, is hoping for more co-ordination among the various charity groups giving out hampers and dinners, but said Rogers' event helped a lot of people who might not have a place to go for a Christmas meal and social.

Besides entertainment, there were gifts for the children and prizes, he said.