Roughly 35 youth plan to file through the doors of the Richmond Chinese Baptist Church this Saturday evening, filling the room with the smells of roast chicken and potatoes, and the sounds of Christmas music and friendly chatter.
The Richmond Youth Service Agency’s U-Connect crew, in partnership with the Richmond Chinese Baptist Church, hosts its annual Christmas dinner this Dec. 8 for the public, particularly low-income families and new residents.
“We’re going to be the hosts, which makes it different from just serving meals to people and going home,” said U-Connect member Bruce Wan, in Grade 12 at Richmond secondary. “This way, we get to make friends and connections, and interact with the community.”
The group wants to welcome its guests — anyone can attend — to a Christmas meal of chicken, mashed potatoes and salad with pomegranate, as well as dessert, in a “home for the holidays”-type atmosphere.
For the past couple of the months, U-Connect has been planning the menu, fundraising for the event, buying the groceries and will be cooking the meal.
Pastor Sanders Mah, from the Baptist Church, and members from his English-speaking congregation will also lend their hands to buying the groceries and preparing dinner.
“Although the idea of giving is great, we want to make sure we’re not just giving and giving, but are getting a more genuine experience out of it,” said RYSA child and youth activities worker Kim Aldridge.
“Instead, we’re mingling with the community. We want to foster an inclusive environment, so everyone feels welcome.”
For Mah, the dinner brings back an old-time tradition of his family, where large groups gather to have Christmas dinner. The food will also be placed at each table, family style, so that guests can “pass the potatoes” and serve each other.
“It’s where we can blur the lines between family and community,” said Mah. “It’ll be warm and cozy, and really bring back that nostalgia for people who either lost the tradition or haven’t experienced it before. I was thinking, instead of RSVP-ing, we should have asked, ‘Are you coming home for dinner?’”
Mah plans to set up a dining area and a living room area, where guests can sing carols and children can hear stories.
Last year’s U-Connect dinner saw about 100 guests, mostly young families and older singles. Youth members played the piano, sang Christmas carols and set up children’s activities.
“I think the guests thought it was a unique experience because teenagers organized everything, so it wasn’t as formal, but more casual,” said Steveston-London Grade 10 student Saurav Jain, another U-Connect member. “I think people liked the atmosphere better, it was easier for them to feel welcome.”
“For a lot of the guests, they don’t always get to talk to youth unless it’s like their child’s friend or something,” added Bruce.
To RSVP for the Christmas dinner, contact Aldridge at 604-644-6415 or firstname.lastname@example.org, by Thursday, Dec. 6 at 5 p.m.
The crew is also accepting donations and canned goods for the Richmond Food Bank.