Fort McMurray Knights of Columbus welcome all at 29th community Christmas meal

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Healthy helpings of community, food and Christmas cheer were served to hundreds of people as the Fort McMurray Knights of Columbus made sure as few people as possible felt forgotten on Christmas Day.

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Between 300 and 350 people gathered at the gymnasium of Our Lady of the Rivers Catholic School to celebrate the 29th annual Christmas meal.

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Guests were served a turkey dinner donated by Clean Harbours and desserts from Sobey’s. The Wood Buffalo Food Bank gave out bags of potatoes, carrots, onions, milk and eggs to anyone who wanted them. People could take donated gloves, hats and kids winter coats. Anyone who wanted to sing was allowed to do so.

Waypoints received 45 dinners and presents for children to give to people at the Unity House Emergency Women’s Shelter. A surplus of donated potatoes went to the Salvation Army. The remaining leftovers went to the Centre of Hope.

“When you see a gathering like this on Christmas Day, it makes you feel good to know we’re coming together to help the community,” said Stanley Bartlett, one of the organizers with the Knights of Columbus. “I know the Knights are spearheading it, but it’s the community working together on Christmas Day.”

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The free event was open to people of all faiths and economic backgrounds. At one point an impromptu choir sang Christmas carols in Malayalam, a language commonly spoken in the Kerala state in southern India.

Many guests and volunteers are new to Fort McMurray and did not know anyone. Bartlett said organizers received calls from people who were new to the region and asking about volunteering or attending the meal.

The annual meal launched in 1994 in the basement of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. After 11 years, the organizing of the event was taken over by Fort McMurray Knights of Columbus. It moved to the school from the church in 2016 as the event grew. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the meal was limited to a take-out service to follow restrictions on large gatherings.

Bartlett hopes the 30th anniversary in 2024 will bring out even more people.

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Volunteers at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
A choir sings Christmas carols in Malayalam, a language commonly spoken in the Kerala state in southern India, at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
A choir sings Christmas carols in Malayalam, a language commonly spoken in the Kerala state in southern India, at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
A drummer at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
A drummer at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People are served a Christmas meal at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People are served a Christmas meal at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Cam Stewart the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Cam Stewart the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
The Beaulne family at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
The Beaulne family at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
A family gets their photo taken with Santa at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
A family gets their photo taken with Santa at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
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A man at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Volunteers give out food to guests at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Volunteers give out food to guests at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Gladys Ladouceur at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
Gladys Ladouceur at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People are served a Christmas meal at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People are served a Christmas meal at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People are served a Christmas meal at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People are served a Christmas meal at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People put pins in their home cities on a map at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
People put pins in their home cities on a map at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
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Father Jonnel Eucare speaks with people at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network
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People are served a Christmas meal at the 29th annual community Christmas meal at Our Lady of the Rivers School in Fort McMurray on Monday, December 25, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

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