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White Rock-South Surrey Christmas Dinner continues tradition

Annual event stands as the legacy of community champion Chip Barrett
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The continued success of the White Rock-South Surrey Community Christmas Day Dinner is a tribute to the efforts of late architect and community champion Chip Barrett (1944-2023), seen here with his wife Cindy during a visit to Banff, Alberta. Contributed photo

When the White Rock/South Surrey Community Christmas Day Dinner takes place on Dec. 25, it’ll be the perfect time to pick up a glass and raise a toast to Chip Barrett.

In his own quiet way, the late architect, who passed at age 78 on May 29, embodied the community spirit that continues to drive the annual event, now approaching its 42nd edition.

The free, donor-supported, volunteer-staffed event will be held, as it has been in recent years, at White Rock Baptist Church, 1657 140 St. (doors open at 11:30 a.m., dinner served at noon).

The standing invitation is to “share the warmth of the holiday season and a traditional holiday meal with neighbours, family and friends.”

In the words of one of the original founders of the event, the late city gardener George Bryant, the dinner was created to offer an opportunity to share good fellowship with others in the community – particularly for those who otherwise might feel “alone or lonely at Christmas”.

Bryant and fellow-founder the late Rev. Howard Filsinger told this writer the tradition went back to one one particularly bad Christmas in the late 1970s when several community members passed away alone in their homes during the holiday.

They said were determined they would do everything they could to make sure that such sad situations were avoided in future – and a community Christmas Day dinner seemed the best solution.

Barrett always claimed – with a characteristic twinkle in his eye – that he was merely co-opted by Bryant and Filsinger and a few others to work on the project. But it was clear to anyone who observed his conscientious organizational flair in action that it was at the core of his instinct to help his home community (one of his many other involvements was as co-chair of the Canadian Open Sandcastle Competition from 1979 to 1987).

Keith Hanson – who, along with several other friends, served as expert turkey carvers at the dinner for many years – recalled recently to current organizer Brian Hagerman that Barrett had been a driving force behind the continuing tradition.

“He was instrumental in keeping the Christmas Dinner going for more than 35 years and did a lot of work on it,” Hanson said.

“(The dinner) costs a lot of money,” he added.

“Many people don’t know this, but not only did Chip do all the organizing for it but also – behind the scenes – he would contact a few of his wealthy buddies and get the many thousands of dollars needed to buy the supplies needed.”

In addition to the traditional turkey-with-all-the-trimmings dinner, the event also features gifts and goodie bags, a sing-a-long of Christmas favourites and a visit from Santa Claus – while a team of volunteers also co-ordinates free rides to and from the event for those who can’t get there otherwise.

Hagerman said that the event seems to have gathered even more interest in the community, and among volunteers, following its return last year after a two-year hiatus due to COVID 19.

“As of the end of November, we were almost at 100 guests registered, and it wasn’t even December yet,” he said.

With a maximum service capability of 240, that means that those not registered yet will have to move fast to make sure they have a place at the table.

To book a reservation, and/or a ride, call 604-992-0950.

Those wishing to volunteer to help with the event should call Sources Community Resources at 604-542-4357.