In December, Drayton Valley residents will sit down to celebrate with one last community supper together before the three-year-old tradition comes to an end.
The monthly dinners were launched in January 2017 as the oil and gas town felt the stress of the economic downturn.
The meals were sponsored by local businesses and agencies, and continued to grow in popularity. Last month’s dinner drew about 350 people, including seniors and families with young children.
“It’s been incredible for the community,” said Lola Strand, a community dinner co-ordinator who works for Family and Community Support Services. “What we wanted to do is created those connections and build that community and we’ve definitely done that with these dinners.”
But Strand thinks the program has run its course. She pointed to all the behind-the-scenes work volunteers perform from grocery shopping to food preparation.
“We don’t want to burn our volunteers out.,” Strand said.
Town councillor Fayrell Wheeler called the three years of community dinners “a really good run.”
“It’s been three years of bringing people together in the community and connecting and our organization wants to transfer on and focus on some new and exciting things coming up,” Wheeler said.
She also expressed a hope that another group may be willing to step up and take the project over.
‘It’s tragic in a way’
Nelson Brothers Oilfield Services has sponsored three of the dinners over the past three years, including one held earlier this month. Going forward, the company has offered to host two dinners a year.
“We all have to band together to take care of each other.,” Nelson Brothers Operations Manager David King said. He suggested the need is desperate for the dinners to continue.
“When you go to a dinner like that and look around the room, it’s very emotional just to see the state of the community,” King said. “People that you worked next to that might have been your supervisor five years ago, now can’t look you in the eye when you put food on their plate. Because they can’t afford a meal.”
King said the downturn in the economy has hit many Drayton Valley residents very hard. He even packs extra food into his son’s school lunches to help out other children.
“He’s got buddies sitting next to him that don’t have food,” King said. “Their dads used to work alongside us.”
He said he doesn’t see a quick end to the economic woes, making it all the more important in his opinion for the community dinners to continue.
“It’s hitting everybody on every level and to see something like this disappear from the community, it’s tragic in a way.”