© THE GUARDIAN/Sally Cole
Melvin Ford gets into the Christmas spirit as he loads candy into his car for the upcoming free turkey dinner at Kings Playhouse in Georgetown on Dec. 25.
Second in three-part series of The Guardian's own take on Christmas past, present future
GEORGETOWN – When Melvin Ford used social media to publicize a free turkey dinner he was organizing at Kings Playhouse in Georgetown on Christmas Day earlier this fall he was shocked and amazed at the reaction.
“The response was unbelievable. It was also heart warming. One-by-one people contacted me, saying they wanted to help,” says the Georgetown resident who posted his request on Facebook.
In the space of an hour, two individuals donated 100 pound of potatoes.
“So now I now have 200 pounds of potatoes. I also have as many carrots as I need and I know where I can get more. I also have the turkeys,” says the Ford, with a happy smile.
Then, Melissa Batchilder, a native of Georgetown, came up with the idea of putting tiny little gift bags together for everyone.
“It’s the idea that someone thought of them,” says Ford, who went shopping for candy canes and other treats to fill them, earlier this week.
Then when his Facebook friends started sharing his post, things really took off.
“Soon I was getting messages from people in Ontario, Pleasant Grove and Summerside saying, ‘Melvin, what do you need?’ Others sent along cash to purchase things that we needed to buy like cream, sugar and coffee,” says Ford, whose original Facebook post has been shared more than 100 times.
Others sent him supportive texts, like this one: “ ‘Ask me for whatever you need. Don’t let yourself go short.’ “
Ford is not alone in his concern for others at Christmas time. Before putting his post on Facebook, Ford contacted various community officials.
“Melvin stopped in at the playhouse and told me he had this idea (about hosting a free Christmas dinner). He said, “What do you think?” says Haley Zavo, executive director of the Kings Playhouse in Georgetown.
Immediately, she loved it.
“It certainly aligns with the work that we’ve been doing at the Kings Playhouse in recent months. It’s such a nice opportunity to provide something to the community that will be meaningful and also bring us together.”
Georgetown mayor Lewis Lavandier agrees.
”We’re certainly in support of helping people who are going to be alone at Christmas and want to celebrate it with others or people in need,” says Lavandier
Georgetown business owner Stacy Toms is also thrilled with the idea.
“We think it’s fantastic. It’s such a great idea. We will be donating some dessert trays,” says Toms, manager of Maroon Pig Art Gallery and Sweet Shop.
Now, with less than two weeks left to go, Ford is reading his list and checking it twice.
“We have some pickles but we need chow and all the other little things that make Christmas dinner special. It’s all those little things like napkins, cranberry sauce and sweets for dessert that will make it memorable.”
He hasn’t forgotten the children or the seniors that will be in attendance.
“I told people, come for 15 minutes and enjoy the social aspect. Sit down and talk to someone you don’t know. Make them feel like they’re appreciated,” says Ford, whose motivation comes from having experienced a lonely time in his life when he was struggling from depression.
“This is my gift to people this year. And it’s my Christmas present to me. I’m getting such a (special) feeling out of this, I don’t want a gift.”
The only opposition he’s received, this far, is from people convinced he’s neglecting his own children.
“People said, ‘are you crazy? It’s Christmas. Spend the day with your kids. I said, ‘do you know what? I am spending the day with my kids. They’re coming with me.
“My oldest son says he wants to wash dishes . . . So my kids are coming and they’re going to learn from this experience,” says Ford, whose last count had 20 volunteers and at least 50 people confirmed for Christmas dinner at Kings Playhouse from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Every year, at Christmastime, there are so many people that, for various reasons, find themselves alone.
“So it’s about reaching out to people in all walks of life.”
Back at the playhouse, Zavo is swept up in the Christmas spirit.
“Melvin is so excited about all the donations that people were making. When everyone gives what they can, then we have enough. That’s a bit of what the season, being light in the darkness, is all about.”
Christmas Past, Present & Future
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, first published in London by Chapman & Hall, in December 1843, tells the story of a bitter old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation into a gentler, kindlier man after visitations by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.
Today, The Guardian publishes the second in a three-part series which includes its own take on Christmas Past, Present and Future. Today, Sally Cole looks at Christmas Present. The final in the series, Christmas Future, will be published next Saturday.