Thousands of Christmas dinners and paid for and distributed by church communities and prepared by The Long Table, Stroud’s impressive team, have been gratefully received by a host of different people.
The Comfort and Joy project allowed over 3,000 meals to be distributed across Gloucestershire in December.
The project was hugely diverse – in some areas students stuck at university over Christmas received the meals – in other places they went to families whose children would usually have free school meals. Some areas made it a community feast to bring everyone together in spirit if not in body and some people chose to share with people who would be on their own on Christmas Day.
Wherever the smiling volunteers arrived with meals and gifts, they were welcomed with delight and joy.
In Welford, Weston, Quinton and Long Marston, there were some wonderful extra goodies that went out. Waitrose got in on the action with a Giving Tree where people could sponsor Christmas presents for others.
One recently bereaved lady poignantly said, “Having lost my husband earlier this year to cancer, knowing that there are people thinking of those, such as myself, suddenly finding themselves on their own, is heart-warming.”
Someone widowed just two months before Christmas said he was most grateful. “When a member of my local church’s Pastoral Team discovered that I had decided not to travel to family at Christmas and would be spending Christmas on my own, persuaded me to let her put my name on her list.
“I am so glad she did. My scattered family were in touch with me by phone, text and Zoom on Christmas Day and I don’t know how I should have fitted in trying my hand at cooking in addition to all the social activity. Much more relevantly, your meal was excellent.”
The element of surprise brought joy for one lady who said, “It was with unexpected delight and surprise that I answered a ring at my door, to be greeted by a charming lady with a bag full of wonderful Christmas goodies. I didn’t think they could be for me, but she assured me they were! As a widowed old lady, living alone, I cannot thank you enough for such largesse!”
The happiness and gratefulness spilled out into other acts of kindness and generosity, with some people saying they had paid the meal forward by sending extra donations to food banks.
In the Chedworth area, they decided to try to recreate a “Christmas Together” and diverse community groups joined to provide homemade treats to be delivered with the boxes. Sally Smith said, “I asked people to imagine we were eating together and we were inundated with appreciation and support. It was a truly lovely evening.”
In Swindon Village and in Lydney Benefice churches worked with the local schools to offer Christmas dinners to the families of children who receive free school meals. One lady said that having the Christmas dinner taken care of was such a relief and it had helped her to stretch her Christmas budget further.
Simon Witcombe, Chaplain at the University of Gloucestershire said that the meals were a symbol of hope for stranded students. “The benefit of doing this wasn’t just the meals themselves – it was a tangible sign that the university had not forgotten these students. Many were international students who were far from home, and particularly appreciative.” He also used the delivery time as an opportunity to invite students to a Christmas lunch at Trinity Church (and have their frozen meal at another time).
The Revd Susan Pestell from the Guitings, Cutsdean, Farmcote, Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter with Eyford and Naunton said, “We have had some lovely feedback, some about the tasty meal, but others who were touched by knowing they were being thought about and prayed for.
There were grins from ear to ear, heartfelt thanks and tears. It was an opportunity for people from different parts of the benefice to see people they haven’t seen in the flesh all year.
If you’re inspired by this story, keep an eye out for our next exciting collaboration with the Long Table. News coming soon!