Dinner enough for 1,000

Twenty 11-kg turkeys: check. Fifteen hams, 11kg of ground beef for cabbage rolls, 180 kg of potatoes: check. And don’t forget eight cases of iceberg and romaine lettuce, three, nine-kg cases of cabbage, four cases of vegetables, a case of cranberry sauce and a limitless amount of Christmas cheer.

Twenty 11-kg turkeys: check.

Fifteen hams, 11kg of ground beef for cabbage rolls, 180 kg of potatoes: check.

And don’t forget eight cases of iceberg and romaine lettuce, three, nine-kg cases of cabbage, four cases of vegetables, a case of cranberry sauce and a limitless amount of Christmas cheer.

This is the recipe that turned an exhibition hall at Capri Hotel and Convention Centre into the epicentre of local holiday spirit on Sunday.

Co-ordinator Anita Mott estimated that about 650 people turned out for the annual free Christmas Banquet she organizes with Red Deer’s Loaves and Fishes and a brigade of big-hearted volunteers.

Mott, who has co-ordinated the dinner for the past three years, said preparations began months ago.

“I hit the ground running the day the kids go back to school in September,” said the Innisfail woman.

The first job is to make posters and distribute leaflets to local businesses and organizations and get the word out. Fundraising is done each year to cover various costs such as advertising. Whatever is left over after the feast, either in cash or food, goes to Loaves and Fishes.

The dinner was first started by a group of Christian motorcyclists, said Mott. “What started out as maybe half a dozen (volunteers) has definitely expanded into a few more, which is exciting.”

Mott said the first year was the hardest. Now that more people know about the event, she sometimes gets approached with donations before she even asks.

Loaves and Fishes administrator Melinda Lantz said there is enough food to feed 1,000, and 120 to 140 volunteers have been lined up to serve meals in shifts beginning at 2 p.m. The Capri Hotel donates the space and cooks all of the food free of charge.

“We bring the food to them and they cook it all for us,” said Lantz. “We bring in the volunteers and you all start serving.

“It’s really quite amazing.”

The downtown Red Deer Tim Hortons came through with the coffee and hot chocolate, the Red Deer Food Bank donated some snacks and a band serenaded diners with gospel country songs and carols.

There were also free Bibles in English, French, Spanish or Cree and stockings for the children as well as gifts of hats, mittens and scarves.

“We had one lady come in here with her hands over her ears and she left with a tuque over her ears,” said Mott.

Lantz can’t thank the donors, volunteers and others who have helped out from Red Deer and the surrounding area enough. “Because without them we couldn’t do this.”

Mott has a similar message for all the volunteers. “I would like it stressed that I’m not alone. I’m not the Lone Ranger,” she said with a laugh.

The Capri is the second giant dinner in three days that Loaves and Fishes hosts. Its annual meal sponsored by Innisfail’s Johns Manville Canada Inc. was held on Friday and was expected to draw 250 to 300 people.

Contact Paul Cowley at pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com