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Christmas dinner at St. Anthony’s in Woodstock

Way Up West
by Jan Cox

Six volunteers with big hearts began serving Christmas dinner eight years ago at St. Anthony's Hall, Woodstock. From left, John and Jean Hagen, Helen and Preston Murphy, Peggy and Ted Peters. (photo: Jan Cox)Preston and Helen Murphy had an idea kicking around for several years. They wanted to put on a Christmas day dinner. Preston said, “Christmas day was always hard for me. I thought it might be hard for others too.” His wife Helen joined in, “After the kids left the nest, it was time to try it.”

That was eight years ago. The annual West Prince Christmas tradition shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. Two more couples, John and Jean Hagen, Peggy and Ted Peters were part of that first dinner. Now the group of volunteers has grown to more than 40. The dinner is open to, well, everyone! As Preston lovingly says, “If people are alone, single, poor, lonely, or just want to come out with their families and see friends and neighbours—it’s for everyone.” Helen added, “No one has to fry an egg if they are alone on Christmas day.”

That first year, local key board musician Ted Peters was asked if he would play a little bit in the afternoon. Wife Peggy told him, “If you’re there, then I’m there in the kitchen.” Now live music is performed pretty well all afternoon, from 12 noon until four. No one gets paid, and no one pays for their dinner. Everything is donated from West Prince residents and local businesses. The phone calls have already begun from business owners asking “What do you need?” Christmas dinner with all the trimmings “up West” style, includes salt fish and baked beans by the way, along with traditional turkey, ham and of course, potatoes and vegetables.

Last year, 30 to 40 volunteers started cooking, cutting and chopping on Christmas eve. More than 175 dinners were served with another 20 or so being delivered (by a volunteer of course) or picked up at St. Anthony’s Hall in Woodstock. There is a donation box at the door, no pressure. But $2000 was raised last year and divided between two local charity groups. Preston was told at a dinner, “I don’t even care if I eat. Just to have someone to talk to and listen to the music is enough.” Someone else has said,  “I cried every Christmas day until I came up here.”

Preston and Helen and the other “Elves” say it best, “In this busy world today, we need these kinds of functions. It brings everyone together. Young and old. It’s people meeting people. We are very grateful for this, for what we have. God willing, this tradition will keep going.”

You won’t find a more generous, humble and dedicated flock of folks. And yes, you’re all invited.

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