A local pub owner, his staff, and all kinds of volunteers will be getting up early December 25 to get ready to serve as many as 100 turkey dinners with all the fixings – for free.
“This is going to be our sixth or seventh year now,” said John Bartlett of the Capitol Pub in Middleton. “I think we’re into seven years now, maybe longer.”
Why’s he doing it?
“The reason really extends from my military background … the fact that I was away one Christmas,” he said. “I lived in Ontario and my future wife at the time went home for Christmas because I had to work. I found it was such a lonely spot. People invite you to Christmas dinner, but it’s a very family affair.”
He felt like he’d be intruding and he always said he’d love to have a place to go, or have a place that was open on Christmas Day.
“I’d go and I’d pay for my meal,” he said of that long-ago wish. “So fast-forward 25 years and I’m fortunate enough to be where I am. The town’s been good to me, as I always say. The town’s always supported everything I’ve done and I just felt a need, or saw a need, not only for those who can’t afford it, but those who have no place to go Christmas Day. So, we decided to start this.”
“The first year or two we may have gotten 30, 35 people,” Bartlett said. “Everything’s donated. My suppliers are good to me. They donate the turkeys. TRA donates, you know we just give them a list – cranberry sauce, dressing, stuff like that. They donate it. Some other suppliers, they’ll donate potatoes. So, it doesn’t cost us anything, really.”
And while you might think it would be hard to get people to work on Christmas Day, not so in this case.
“My staff don’t have to come in but they volunteer to come in,” he said. “For me it’s as much about seeing my staff with their kids on Christmas Day. They come. You see kids doing something worthwhile.”
Things haven’t changed much from that original year except they need more food because they have more people dropping by.
“Where it’s at today is pretty much the same place except that we’re getting a few more people,” he said. “Last year I was getting a little bit worried. We always prepare for 100. We were getting up to 85, 90 people I started getting a little worried we were going to run out of food. We were looking through the kitchen fridge to see if we could find anything.”
Besides his staff, there are lots of other people who lend their time.
“We have more volunteers now than we’ve ever had. People that come in and want to serve or want to help,” he said. “And in all honesty, we’ve seen people who volunteer are the same people that could be by themselves on Christmas Day.”
But there’s no obligation for anybody, and Bartlett’s a big believer in family – if you have some, be with them.
“I always say, if you’ve got a place to go, go. Be there. Don’t be here,” he said. “But if you have no place to go, regardless of whether you can afford it or can’t afford it – we don’t charge anything, we don’t sell anything – it doesn’t matter what your situation is, I’d rather you be here Christmas Day.”
The food’s the real deal. The Capitol has two Red Seal chefs and a talented kitchen staff who know their stuff.
“It’s a full turkey meal. It’s turkey of course. It’s dressing. It’s gravy. It’s mashed potatoes. It’s vegetables,” he said. “We’ll have desserts. Sometimes we get desserts donated from local shops. Years ago, the owners of Pasta Jax donated sugar pie. Phenomenal. I’ve had other places donate rolls and things like that. Then there’d just be assorted desserts. Coffee and tea.
People who come in are appreciative.
“They’re happy. I get a lot of people trying to donate,” he said. “I get a lot of people that tell me that maybe their family’s out west or something or lives away. It could be a husband and wife who don’t want to cook a turkey dinner for themselves – and maybe the fact that the kids are gone makes it a little lonelier for them. Kids, grandkids are all gone away. There are some people that are in need. They come.”
All in all, it’s a pretty rewarding day at The Capitol.
“It’s just a happy day and that makes us happy,” Bartlett said. “They’re appreciative of what we’re doing. They’re happy. You can see it when they come in. You can see it in the length of time they stay.”
It’s not just a meal and they go.
“It’s a meal and they’ll sit around. They’ll talk to the people that are here, whether it be the people serving or the other people having a meal,” he said. “They sit down, they relax, have a coffee, have their meal. Very social. Very social without the pressure of belonging to something like a church. For us it’s just come as you are, who you are. Doesn’t matter.”
Entertainer Bob Deveau has donated his time to play a few tunes and word is there might be a seasonal song or two thrown in.
The Christmas Day dinner at the Capitol Pub in Middleton runs from 1 to 4 p.m. and everyone is invited. It’s located beside the Royal Bank and across the street from the Independent Grocer at the lights on Highway 1 in Middleton.