Principal Brittany Wallace, Chef Michael and another staff member standing in front of the gym wall furnished with Christmas decorations. Patrick Penner / Abbotsford News.

13 years running – how one Abbotsford school builds community with annual Christmas lunch

Pro-chef cooks, everyone eats, carols and stories shared, Santa visits the classroom

For the last 13 years, Alexander Elementary has been hosting a Christmas lunch for anyone and everyone with a connection to the school.

This year, on Dec. 13, over 300 students, teachers, volunteers, parents, police officers, ex-teachers and students showed up to take part in the Christmas festivities. Santa Claus also made an appearance.

All the food is donated by individuals and businesses in the community and cooked up by culinary chef Michael Dicks of Culinary Touch Catering. After the meal, everyone sings a carol in the gym and principal Brittney Wallace reads a Christmas story, before students go back to their classrooms to await a visit from the big man in red.

Chef Michael Dicks after the service. Patrick Penner / Abbotsford News.

“I’m very satisfied doing it. I mean, to pass on a couple thousand dollar event is not even a second thought, you know?” Dicks said. “We’ve been blessed with our success … You have to give back.”

Wallace said people who haven’t worked at the school in five years still find time to come back to help make it happen.

“There’s a lot of preparation that the staff does before the date and a lot of work leading up to it,” she said.

What started as a community-building event 13 years ago has turned into a lasting tradition for those involved, said ex-principal Jim Van Meer. Van Meer, who was principal during its inaugural year, chuckles when he thinks back to that first attempt.

“Our first plan was we were going to do the cooking ourselves… not a good idea,” he said. “There were five of us that were brand new to the school and we were ready to do something different; ready to do something for the kids.”

Dicks has been preparing Christmas lunch for the event for the last nine years after taking the reins from the Salvation Army, who had to bow out due to a lack of resources.

“When [the Salvation Army] said there’s a school full of kids that look forward to a Christmas meal, it fit right into what our beliefs and values are. This is what we do; we have the skills to do it,” Dicks said.

“So for me to take a couple hours of my day [it’s nothing,] and the rewards are pretty cool.”

Dicks says he receives artwork, pictures and drawings from the young students.

“My favourite thing was [a drawing that said], ‘I like your hat!’” Dicks said. “We post those pictures up at our shop for awhile for everybody to see.”

Principal Brittany Wallace helping pour gravy over a student’s meal. Patrick Penner / Abbotsford News.

And this year, Culinary Touch Catering broke a record for the time it takes the team to serve the Christmas meal: seven minutes and six seconds.

“We went in and said, ‘Let’s see if we can beat this!’” Dicks said.

“A lot of the volunteers are back every year and they know they game – you know, who can do it quicker, what side wins, a little bit of bantering going on, which makes it fun.”

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