Holiday meals brighten community spirits
By Amanda Duncombe-Lee
Special to the Echo
Published Dec. 24, 2018
With all the bustle that comes with the arrival of the holiday season, it is not always easy to take the time to extend the spirit of giving beyond our immediate social circles.
Local dining establishments open their doors every year to give residents the opportunity to access a hot meal and a place to celebrate.
Every holiday season for six years, the staff at McKecks Tap & Grill in Haliburton have dedicated their time, energy and resources to host a free Benevolent Christmas Lunch open to the community.
Aaron Walker, manager and chef at McKecks, says it’s the restaurant’s sixth year hosting the event.
“A friend of mine wanted to distribute turkey and ham on Christmas day and approached me to see if I had any ideas to implement that,” said Walker. “It seemed difficult in regards to logistics, so I said why don’t we just open up McKecks and we’ll have a free meal at the restaurant.”
Walker emphasized that the dinner has always been universally accessible.
“It’s difficult to ascertain who needs it and what the distribution system might be, so we thought we’ll just make it open to all. It could be people in need of companionship, or people in need of some light in their day. Lots of people may be alone on Christmas day or feel they’d like some company and just want to get out and socialize.”
McKecks will be preparing approximately 180 meals this year, including meals that will be delivered to individuals in the community.
A considerable amount of manpower is required to prepare for the lunch, with one person working full time for five days to put everything together.
All the food is prepared from scratch, including 18 to 20 turkeys and vast amounts of potatoes, vegetables, stuffing, sauces and desserts.
Volunteers assist with meal delivery, washing dishes, and other tasks.
Some volunteers transport community members who would otherwise be unable to attend.
Walker noted that many businesses and individuals in the community have supported McKecks over the years both financially and in-kind, and the Christmas lunch is a “pay it forward for the community that supports us. There is an element of community development.”
This year’s free Christmas lunch at McKecks will be held on Christmas day from 12 to 2 p.m. and will feature live music from Gord Kidd. RSVPs are appreciated but not mandatory.
This year, another local restaurant opened its doors to provide community members with a free holiday meal. Owners Rebecca Bamford and Andrew Wilbee bought the West G Pizza & Grill last June.
“Everyone supported us,” recalled Bamford. “We wanted to celebrate with everyone. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here.”
The owners, their friends and some volunteers cooked turkeys, vegetables, stuffing, buns and desserts for almost 200 diners on the evening of Dec. 13. Children’s presents and candy were donated by John and Brenda Smith and Cottage Country Log Cabin.
West Guilford resident Kinga Baricz attended the West G Pizza & Grill dinner event with her father. “It was so amazing…we saw [the owners] in the community and they invited us for dinner. Everybody treated me like they knew me. It was such an uplifting day! When I think about it, I could cry.”
Baricz noted that these community gatherings create positive effects that reverberate and inspire others to contribute in their own way. “Maybe others will realize from learning about this – we should all go and help out more in the community. It would be nice if others did more of these events or helped with them. There are so many ways you can help.”