Christmas dinner for 85? No problem

When Chaplain Erin Phillips met with the board of the Lethbridge Ecumenical Campus Ministry last October, everyone knew their regular Christmas programming wouldn’t be viable given the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We thought we’d explore doing something new and decided to look at taking Christmas dinners to students,” says Phillips.

Using funds left over from a grant and donations from community members to support food needs, they thought they could pull off a limited holiday dinner program for residence students at the U of L and Lethbridge College. Once word got out, more donations started pouring in and soon the offer was extended to other groups on campus.

“Then the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association heard about it and many of their members started donating, too,” she says. “In the end, we were able to offer the dinner to students in residence over the holidays, international students spending Christmas alone, Indigenous students on their own and other students who were alone for the holiday.”

Phillips talked to the owner of Chef Stella restaurant to see if it was possible to prepare Christmas dinners for one.

Erica (Xiaorong) Qian, a second-year student from China who is studying management and education, holds a plate of cookies she decorated from the cookie-decorating kit she received with a Christmas dinner.

“Chef Stella did a turkey dinner and also a vegetarian option for those wanting it,” says Phillips. "They did one special meal for a student with dietary issues, too. They were incredible to work with!”

They also wanted to lift students’ spirits so they worked with Bootsma Bakery to create cookie-decorating kits. With the help of volunteers, about a dozen kits were distributed before Christmas, with the remainder sent along with the Christmas dinners. In addition, a faculty member made up 95 treat bags with candy and hot chocolate and those were sent out with the dinners.

“On the morning of the 24th, we all met at Chef Stella,” says Phillips. “I had a list of where deliveries had to go. We loaded everyone up with what they needed and we delivered in under an hour!”

On Christmas Day, Phillips held a Zoom Christmas dinner for anyone who wanted to join.

“Five of us Zoomed and it was lovely to visit,” she says. “The students loved it and I got a lot of thanks and emails, including some with pictures of decorated cookies. In total, we delivered dinners to 22 college students and 63 U of L students with the help of 13 volunteers, plus me.”