Community Christmas Dinner adapts to COVID difficulties

Ken Kellar
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Leave it to big-hearted individuals to step up and help make the holidays a bit brighter for those in need.

Like many other people who have offered their time and effort to different charitable events over the course of this unexpected year, the Cridland families, along with the Flint House restaurant, are again organizing the Community Christmas Dinner for Fort Frances, and they’re still looking for helpful volunteers to make it as successful as ever. Even as COVID restrictions dictate that it won’t be an in-person event, Dana, Christine and Stacey Cridland said their families are working to turn the dinner into a pick-up and delivery meal to ensure that anyone who wants to get a fresh hot Christmas meal on the big day is able to safely, as long as they call well-enough in advance.

“COVID made the decision for us,” said Dana.

“If we didn’t have the pandemic we’d be doing the Christmas dinner just like we did it last year, but we had to adapt just like everyone else, so we were thinking pick up and delivery was safest for everyone in the community.”

The way the meal will work is simple: those who want to reserve a plate for Christmas lunch are asked to call 276-6425 and make a reservation on or before Sunday, December 20. They will then have the option to have their meal delivered or to go to the restaurant in-person to pick it up and bring it home. On Christmas day itself, deliveries will be completed between 11:00 a.m. and noon, and pick-up orders will be available from noon until 1:00 p.m.

The Cridlands are hoping that as many people as possible will sign up to take part, but that will of course necessitate a large number of volunteer drivers in order to help the day go as smoothly as possible. Volunteers are encouraged to call in to the same number (276-6425) in order to sign up as a delivery person for a day.

The event may have been forced to take a different form this year because of COVID, but the Cridlands are making sure that they follow every precaution in their process to ensure that everyone can enjoy their meal safely, something that is certainly made easier having a commercial kitchen at their disposal.

“We’re doing the dinner out of the Flint House as opposed to the Knox United Church just because we have the policies for food and our kitchen is equipped to be able to cook meals,” said Christine.

“Something else new this year is that we’ve developed COVID-19 screening policies and protocols for all of our volunteers,” Dana continued.

“So we’re going to be screening everyone who comes through to volunteer as well as our family members that are going to be helping cook the meal, so we’re going to be tracking all of that.”

Another alteration to the way things are normally done is how they will be accepting donations. While the public are welcome to make monetary donations to help the dinner thrive, the Flint House will not be able to take food item donations, due to continuing health and safety concerns around COVID. Anyone who wishes to make a monetary donation to the Community Christmas Dinner can do so through Community Living Fort Frances and District.

A good many events and charitable efforts have fallen by the wayside this year, a victim of the COVID pandemic and increasing difficulties surrounding putting on safe events, but the Cridlands noted that once they made some tweaks to keep it safe for everyone, they felt it was important to make sure that it went ahead for the sake of the community.

“I think last year we learned there are a lot of community members that benefit from this dinner,” Dana explained.

“I think that due to COVID-19 there are a lot more people who are at home and spending the holidays by themselves this year, so it’s more important than ever for us to make sure this happened.”

“We wanted to spread a little Christmas joy,” Stacey added.