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Side dishes needed for Christmas Day community dinner in Antigonish

One of the keys each year to a successful Christmas Day community dinner at St. James United Church Hall in Antigonish is the contribution of Sodexho Food Services at St. F.X. Chef Michael Pollock (second, left) and kitchen staff members cook the main course – turkeys – along with stuffing and gravy, for the celebration. Sodexho general manager Tim Hierlihy (left), Pollock and dinner co-ordinator Natasha AlAwashez, along with event volunteers Connie Beaton and Derek Bower, gathered recently to plan for delivery of the birds to Morrison Hall. Corey LeBlanc
One of the keys each year to a successful Christmas Day community dinner at St. James United Church Hall in Antigonish is the contribution of Sodexho Food Services at St. F.X. Chef Michael Pollock (second, left) and kitchen staff members cook the main course – turkeys – along with stuffing and gravy, for the celebration. Sodexho general manager Tim Hierlihy (left), Pollock and dinner co-ordinator Natasha AlAwashez, along with event volunteers Connie Beaton and Derek Bower, gathered recently to plan for delivery of the birds to Morrison Hall. Corey LeBlanc - Corey LeBlanc

Celebration set for Dec. 25 at St. James United Church Hall

It can be anything from creamy mashed potatoes to candied yams, or maybe that mouth-watering dish that has been passed down through generations. 

Whatever one you select from the pages of that dog-eared recipe book, or those stories from grandma or grandpa, they will be more than welcomed by organizers of the annual Christmas Day community dinner at St. James United Church Hall in Antigonish.    

Event co-ordinator Natasha AlAwashez said donation of sides tops the list of needs for the upcoming holiday celebration, which will take place Dec. 25, starting at 2 p.m.    

“We hope people can help us out,” she added, noting the focus on avoiding having a few people take on the daunting task of ensuring there is enough food for everyone.           

That hasn’t been an issue in previous years, but AlAwashez said organizers do not want to take anything for granted.   

Turkey time    

As for cooking turkeys to accommodate 150 meals, or so, that task, once again, will be handled by Chef Michael Pollock and kitchen staff with Sodexho Food Services at St. F.X.    

“We are happy to do our part – it’s become a tradition for us,” he said.    

Pollock noted they not only cook the main course, but also prepare the stuffing and gravy, for Christmas Eve, while they are also putting together meals for the Antigonish VON Meals on Wheels initiative.    

Cooking time for the 10 or more birds will range from four to five hours, depending on their weight.

Key ingredient    

Once those side dishes and turkeys are cooked, there remains work to be done; serving visitors and cleaning up after the festivities.    

That’s where the many volunteers, some who have been on board since its beginnings, take centre stage.    

“It is worth it,” Connie Beaton, who provides his time to a variety of community organizations, said.    

He noted how much people appreciate the effort.    

“I am retired so I have the time and I really enjoy helping out in the community,” volunteer Derek Bower said.    

Both men also pitch in with the weekly hot meal program at St. James United Church.      

Cooking tips    

As for preparing your turkey for Christmas Day, Pollock offered some tips.    

When it comes to time in the oven, 20 minutes per pound is the usual guideline.    

“Usually,” he said, when asked if overcooking is one of the most common missteps of that process.    

He noted a must-have is a probe thermometer for checking the temperature.    

And, as for the defrosting process, it should take place in the fridge and not on the counter or in a water bath in the kitchen sink.    

“Give yourself three or four days,” Pollock said, when it comes to a timeline for the thawing process.

Donation drop-off    

This will be the ninth year for the celebration – a creation of the mother-daughter duo of Betty and Carolyn Webber – who thought there were many community activities during the holiday season, but none on Christmas Day.    

On that first day, the Webbers and other volunteers cooked up an afternoon of food, friendship and fun for more than 60 people.    

This year, organizers want to continue what has become a rich tradition.    

Contributions for the holiday celebration can be dropped off at St. James.    

Unused donations will go to aforementioned hot meal program, which runs twice a week, from September until June, and once a week during the summer months.    

Organizers have set up a page – www.stjamesuc.com/xmas - to accept monetary donations for the community Christmas dinner.    

Tax receipts will be issued to donors.    

For more information, including how to volunteer or contribute food, contact AlAwashez at 902-872-2737 or xmas@stjamesuc.com

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