Vanessa Riplinger receives toys during the annual Christmas Wish Breakfast Dec. 15 at the Ramada Convention Centre.

Vanessa Riplinger receives toys during the annual Christmas Wish Breakfast Dec. 15 at the Ramada Convention Centre.

Caring community at heart of season’s giving

The Yuletide Dinner and Wish Breakfast couldn’t happen without the generous support of the entire community, says the events' co-ordinator.

The 18th annual Yuletide Dinner and 10th annual Wish Breakfast in Williams Lake couldn’t happen this Christmas without the generous support of the entire community, says the events co-ordinator Vanessa Riplinger.

“I truly believe that we have a very giving community,” Vanessa says. “People are so passionate about Williams Lake. People here quietly go about the business of giving. I have so much respect for people who do that.”

One of those quiet givers, she says is Ramada Inn (former Overlander) owner Lindsey Gasparini, who hosted the Yuletide Dinner for many years and continues to host the Williams Lake Wish Breakfast, and support many sports activities for children and youth.

“He gives so much back to our community and never wants to be recognized,” Vanessa says.

She says the Yuletide Dinner was actually started by chef Walter Brunner when he and his staff at the little restaurant they were managing in the Slumber Lodge decided to host a free Christmas dinner for the city’s street people.

A couple of years later when Walter moved on to another job, Vanessa says CDC manager Nancy Gale felt it would be a good thing for the CDC to do for the community.

Vanessa became the point person to get the ball rolling.

She enlisted the help of the Fraser Inn managers and the Yuletide dinner found a new home at the Great Cariboo Steak House, the Fraser Inn restaurant for the next three years.

“The first year we had lineups out the door,” Vanessa says. “Some people had never been to a restaurant like that before.”

After the Fraser Inn changed hands, Vanessa asked Lindsey if he might like to host the dinner which was then held at the Ramada (former Overlander) convention centre every year until this year.

“One year we served 900 people,” Vanessa says. But generally she says the dinners are attended by 400 to 500 people who enjoy a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings, plus a visit from Santa with gifts of Christmas stockings for the children.

As her letters asking for help say:

“The dinner is a gift from the Williams Lake community to anyone experiencing lean times this season.  Lean times need not mean only a shortage of funds for a traditional feast, but perhaps lean on company to celebrate the holiday.”

Sometimes a family or individual going through a hard time just needs to know that someone cares, she adds.

This year the Yuletide Dinner, held on Wednesday, Dec. 2 changed location once again, being hosted by St. Vincent De Paul Society at the Sacred Heart Church Hall.

Vanessa says Brice O’Neill, chef at New World Coffee and Tea House and a team of St. Vincent De Paul volunteers cooked the dinner and various church groups got together to bake goodies for the dessert.

The CDC staff, church members and other volunteers from the community came together to serve and clean up afterward. A total of 500 dinners were served this year.

“The Cariboo Men’s Choir, Old Time Fiddlers and the TubaJohn Brass Band all provided wonderful festive Christmas music for the event,” Vanessa says.

She says quilters and other fabric artists in the community make stockings every year for children, which are filled with little gifts such as an orange tooth brush donated by local dentists, books donated by the local literacy group, plus all types of goodies donated by Shoppers Drug Mart.

“It was an amazing partnership,” Vanessa says. “People here quietly go about their business of giving. I have so much respect for people who do that.”

The idea for the Williams Lake Christmas Wish Breakfast was born 10 years ago when Vanessa says she was watching the Vancouver wish breakfast on TV and thought it would be a great idea for Williams Lake.

“I asked Lindsey what he thought, thinking we might hold a wish breakfast here the following year,” Vanessa says. “He said ‘let’s do it next week’.”

She says The Goat radio jumped on board to help with advertising and has been a key sponsor of the event ever since then.

While the Yuletide Dinner has moved this year to Sacred Heart Church Hall, she says Lindsey continues to host the Christmas Wish Breakfast, at what is a very nominal cost to the CDC. The CDC staff fundraises to help cover the cost of food for the breakfast.

In exchange for donations of a toy or gift for a child or teen, Carmen’s Restaurant at the Ramada provides a sumptuous smorgasbord breakfast in the convention centre. This year 800 people attended the breakfast in half hour sittings between 6 and 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 15, bringing with them 1,100 toys and gifts, plus cash donations used to buy more gifts bringing the total to 1,400 gifts distributed.

She says the CDC invites social service agencies, social workers, counsellors, and caregivers who work with children and families to come to the CDC the day after the breakfast to share in the donations.

“Anyone who works with children who might not get a toy or gift can come and pick out something, wrap it up and give it to the parent or guardian or give it to the child in need themselves,” Vanessa says.

Any gifts left after the CDC’s giveaway are sent to the Salvation Army for their Christmas cheer program.

Vanessa says she is always amazed at the community response to her letters requesting help and the number of people who donate $11 for an individual or $44 for a family to enjoy the Yuletide Dinner, and those who bring toys and gifts for children and teens to the Christmas Wish Breakfast.

“I am blessed and I believe that everyone I work with in this field feels the same passion for this community,” Vanessa says. “I am no different from anyone else.”