Bringing families together during the Christmas season is the goal behind a very special annual event at Points West Stettler.
“We have many residents who are unable to go home for Christmas. So as a service to our residents and family members, we host four nights of Christmas dinners where a fancy meal is served, and residents can invite family members to join them,” said Lisa Smith, recreation therapist at Points West Living Inc.
”We set up extra tables in our dining room, have festive decorations, and take family pictures for those who want them. One of the best parts however, is that we bring in youth to serve the meals to the residents and their families,” she added.
This year, the Alliance Church Youth served on one night, PeeWee Hockey players served for two of the dinners and on the final night JD’s Dance took part.
“The kids love the opportunity to serve and help, and the residents and family members thoroughly enjoy having the kids participate in their meals,” said Smith.
As mentioned, it can be a very challenging time knowing as the holidays approach that a loved one in a seniors’ facility won’t be able to leave where they are living for Christmas get-togethers.
Perhaps over previous years, dinners and gatherings had been held at a family’s home where everyone could be together.
But often, as people age, the family needs to come to them.
And that’s the whole point behind these warm and engaging events each year at Points West Stettler.
“Traditions change, and so this is a really valuable service,” explained Smith, emphasizing also that it’s the Points West kitchen staff who are intrinsic to the event’s success year after year.
“From the staff perspective, this is one of the biggest functions of the year so there is a lot of excitement around it,” she added. “There is a tonne of coordinating, of shifting schedules around to help make it work, too. On Christmas dinner nights we have more staff here, and they are here later. And in our dining room, we usually just have three big tables. For this event, they pull in tables from everywhere!”
Smith said the feedback from families and residents is always fantastic, too. And that in itself is enough to lift everyone’s spirits, she said.
“That’s why we do it – it’s for those families who can’t take their loved ones home. There is tonnes of positive response from family members as well as residents. And we don’t actually do a turkey meal. The last few years we’ve had different meals – last year we had a roast beef dinner. This year, it’s been steak and shrimp – and there have been lots of positive reviews around that, too.”
The uniqueness of the dinners make them that much more enjoyable, she added. “It really ‘marks’ the occasion.”
As for the community groups that come in to serve, the feedback is also tremendous.
Each group really enjoys the experience of serving and having visits with the residents, said Smith.
“The kids love to come here,” she said, adding that there is even a bit of training that comes with taking part. “They really love to make a difference. And the residents’ faces just light up – this is something new, it’s different. We actually do quite a bit of inter-generational programming here.
“But the Christmas dinners are the event that everyone wants to come to,” she added, referring to the faithful helpers across the community.
“They love it. We find that the feedback from the kids is really, really great.”
Shelley Berry-Bryce, a hospitality aid at Points West, is the key organizer of the annual Christmas dinners. This year marked her fourth Christmas working at Points West Stettler.
“Over the course of the last few years it’s kind of grown to be my thing – the set up, helping to plan, taking care of the residents and working with the volunteer groups that come in, too,” she said. “I work with the kitchen manager and the rest of the kitchen staff and we make it happen!
“We used to have a couple of sittings on one night, but it has grown and people love it so much that we are now having sittings on four nights,” she said. “We’ve had a full house every night.
“You can’t even really describe what you see – it’s really something that you need to witness,” she added of the festive dinners.
“It’s an experience. Our residents are just thrilled because for them, it’s a super-special day that their families are here to share with them.”
Some of the servers who come in to help are a bit tentative at first, but by the end of the night, they want to return and do more, she explained.
“They get that taste for volunteering and they see the sheer joy that it brings to our residents. It makes them feel good!”