For 33 years, Eastbourne Rotary have run an event called “Alone at Christmas” where they host around 100 people for a Christmas Lunch who have nowhere else to go. My father was a great supporter of this event, and for many years as I grew up, I remember sitting in a mini bus with him, helping him collect the people who otherwise would have spent Christmas Day alone.
I remember when he was President of Rotary, and the whole family worked hard on Christmas Day as is expected from the President and his family. We were there all day, welcoming people, putting on some entertainment, and then sending them home with a small gift and a big smile on their faces.
Then for years after, as I got older, Dad and I would just drive people to the lunch, so that our Christmas Lunch could have the usual glass or so of champagne, and we knew we didn’t have to go anywhere afterwards to drop people home. There were others who would volunteer to drive after lunch – people offering whatever time that they had spare.
This year was the second Christmas without Dad and I wanted to do something in his memory so I offered to do some driving for “Alone at Christmas”. I was given control of a what they called a mini bus (not sure there was anything mini about it!) and a list of 6 people to collect. I rang around on Christmas Eve to let everyone know who I was, and what time I would be there to collect them. One man cancelled – he’d had an invitation elsewhere. So I was down to 5.
I persuaded my big sister to come with me to help me, as an extra pair of hands helping was much appreciated.
This is me driving the mini bus – complete with Santa hat!
I drove around and with my sister we picked up our passengers, and took them to the designated Church Hall to be met by a group of volunteers who welcomed them and helped them to tables, with crackers, wine and of course a full blown Christmas Lunch prepared by Eastbourne District General Hospital for the event. Roast Turkey, stuffing, parsnips, potatoes, sprouts, carrots, and gravy were hurriedly consumed! There was a buzz in the hall, both from the participants and the volunteers. There is a sense of “doing good” that seems to increase the Christmas feeling.
Mum came and joined us there, and got stuck in with the washing up. The hall had no dishwasher, so instead, there was a team of ladies all armed with their rubber gloves who washed every plate, spoon and glass … for the 100 participants and 20-something volunteers!
We had a quick break to pop home, grab a sandwich, let the dog out, then we headed back down to continue helping out. Before long, I was back in the minibus taking home my folk, all with smiles on their faces, and being very grateful for their day out.
It wasn’t much – but I felt that I had done something my Dad would have wanted me to do. He was a very active participant in Rotary events, especially where helping others was concerned, and part of me hopes that they miss his involvement, enthusiasm and ideas. I wanted to give my time as that’s very easy to do, and I was very happy to have my Christmas Day the following day, when my other sister and her family could join us. She has three kids, so Christmas seems much more exciting when they’re around.
I have already offered my help next year … it’s such a small thing, but I know it’s what Dad would have wanted me to do. Next is to find other things I can do during the year. I have a lot to live up to, but if I can do a little bit of what Dad used to do, I reckon he’ll be looking down with a smile on his face! Here’s to you Pa.