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Serving up the true meaning of Christmas each and every year

Charlotte Cromarty’s annual Christmas dinner helps remind her what helped get her back in the Christmas spirit after losing a son, while also raising funds for KidsAbility. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]

Charlotte Cromarty knows firsthand how giving is more rewarding than receiving. She hosted her annual Christmas dinner on Sunday, where nearly 80 friends, family, and church members gathered in her Heidelberg home for a full turkey dinner.

Charlotte Cromarty’s annual Christmas dinner helps remind her what helped get her back in the Christmas spirit after losing a son, while also raising funds for KidsAbility.[Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Charlotte Cromarty’s annual Christmas dinner helps remind her what helped get her back in the Christmas spirit after losing a son, while also raising funds for KidsAbility. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
The guests have helped raise more than $15,000 for KidsAbility, an organization centered around providing rehabilitation programs for children with varying needs. And while Cromarty is grateful for the generosity that’s come out of her dinners, the event holds a more important place in her heart.

“We lost a son when he was 23 and that was very devastating for me because Christmas is family time,” Cromarty said. “I just didn’t want to have anything to do with it. I was more or less running from it.”

She started cooking the Christmas dinner for her church, which helped get her back into the holiday spirit. From there, church members suggested they move the dinner to a home rather than the hall, and Cromarty volunteered hers.

“It really brought me out and the meaning of Christmas is much more meaningful now,” Cromarty said.

When they started doing the dinner, there were about 30 people. She said it snowballed from there and she decided she was going to invite other people. She was inspired to raise funds for KidsAbility after seeing a boy named Josh on television as their spokesperson. She also had a neighbour who worked for the organization as a therapist.

Lisa Talbot, executive director of KidsAbility, said Josh lost his ability to walk and talk after having cancer when he was young.

“She was so moved by this that she ended up phoning me and said I have two hands and I can use my hands,” Talbot said. “There are a lot of kids at KidsAbility that maybe can’t do the physical things we can and she wanted to give back.”

Talbot attended the first dinner nine years ago and continues to attend, collecting the donations because Cromarty would rather not know who donated what.

“It was just unbelievable to see this woman who went to all of this effort to make sure everyone had an amazing evening,” Talbot said. “She didn’t sit down the entire evening. She was filling up people’s water, and just ran on her feet the whole evening. She took such joy in doing that and in helping to raise money for local charities.”

The money has gone towards purchasing therapeutic equipment and supporting programs that aren’t funded except by donations.

“So she’s really helped a lot of little lives here at KidsAbility with her fundraising and also with all the members of her church that donate every year. It’s quite a feat for one woman to do,” Talbot said.

She said about $2,245 was raised from her dinner party this year, which Cromarty notes will likely climb to $3,000 after more cheques come in from the church and friends.

“We’re able to provide more opportunities to our kids to participate fully along with their peers,” Talbot said. “We also have a very long waiting list at KidsAbility and donations allow us to see more kids, so that they can have that life-changing therapy so they can achieve their full potential.”

Cromarty starts preparing for the dinner early, we’re talking October early. She starts looking through her vast library of cookbooks before November hits, because that’s when it’s time to get baking.

Between baking up a storm every night in November and running a decorating business, the 79-year-old keeps herself more than busy. But she notes it’s only once a year.

“A lot of them say ‘don’t you think you should cut back or maybe you should do this,’ and I don’t want to because I’m afraid maybe I’m going to be falling back into that same hole that I climbed out of,” Cromarty said. “I enjoy what I’m doing.”

And after dinner, the guests are always good about cleaning up, even using the sink in the laundry room to get the dishes done. Dinner was done by 9 p.m. and by 10:30 everything was cleaned up.

She says the day of the dinner is the busiest because she has to plan everything accordingly, making sure the food on the stove, in the oven, and in the six crock pots is ready at the right time. But despite people suggesting she slow down, she has no plans as of yet.

“My philosophy always is if you don’t try how would you know that you could do it or cannot do it?”

Cromarty commends KidsAbility for its transparency, letting her see what equipment and programs they need and choosing where the funds go. Every year she tells the dinner guests what their money went towards the previous year.

“It’s a wonderful organization to work with,” Cromarty said. “They’re so appreciative with what you do and that just makes the dinner so much more appreciated.”

She also says if some of the guests can’t donate, that’s okay too. Her intention was never to force people to pay.

And you’d think a day full of cooking and running around would be sure to make you hungry, but not Cromarty. She waits until everyone has eaten and gone home before she has her own supper.

“Everyone says ‘sit down and eat’” Cromarty said. “I’d be getting up and down and up and down looking at this and that. Everybody thinks it’s funny me not eating. There’s always plenty left over. I’m funny like that. Even when I’m baking or cooking, I’ll never test anything.”

This Christmas, Cromarty will be spending it with one of her daughters and her family. While she might bring some squares she’ll be doing none of the cooking, a welcome break.

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