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Surbiton has a little pocket of Bethlehem on Christmas Day

Christmas Day is a special time at YMCA Surbiton for around 100 people from the community and for our residents.

Local church St Andrew and St Mark’s organises a wonderful lunch, with volunteers who serve the dinner, chefs to cook the food and drivers to give lifts to and from the hostel. The church sources the funding from Waitrose, the Rotary club and Surbiton Farmers’ Market, plus all of the food is donated by Bill’s Restaurant chain, as one of the employees is a Surbiton local. It’s a big event with a lot of planning beforehand by YMCA chaplain Jacky Bone and Assistant Minister Rev’d Carole Bourne to ensure the day goes smoothly. It’s been running at YMCA for 15 years.

Local people who come along tend to be those who live by themselves and who don’t want to spend Christmas Day alone. A few of these people have been homeless in the past and are now in flats, but have no family relationships. Many are local people who attend Alfriston Day Centre.

“On Christmas Eve, the church volunteers bring down to the hostel all that they will need for the day, including the food. This year there will also be help from the owners and chefs of The Pickled Pantry, Jo and George, alongside our own chef Jose,” explains Jacky Bone.

At about 9am on Christmas morning the volunteers arrive to set up and the chefs start cooking. The chaplaincy team and support staff go up to the residents rooms at the hostel on Christmas morning and take them a Christmas gift. “We knock on everyone’s door and we collect those who are coming for lunch at 12.30pm and bring them down,” says Jacky. Lunch is served at 12.30pm and each table has a volunteer from the church who is the Table Host, ensuring that everyone is ok and has what they need.

“This year we launched a new project where we’ve asked churches to make up gift bags for residents. We sent them a list of items that would be good, like shower gel and a mug. It’s then put in a gift bag with a personal Christmas card and a note. Five churches in the borough have taken that on, which means there are gifts for all our residents. It also means each gift can be blessed,” explains Jacky.

About 2pm the church choir arrives to perform, followed by the Queen’s speech at 3pm. As each person leaves, they are given a gift to take home with them.

“The YMCA is a brilliant location for hosting the Christmas lunch partly for practicalities - it's central, has a fully modified kitchen - but also for more than that: I feel it also embodies something of what the YMCA stands for,” says St Andrew and St Mark Rev’d Robert Stanier.

“While the core of volunteers comes from our congregation, what's also a great joy to me is how many people volunteer from around the community, both those with a deep faith, and those with none, but all of them knowing that there's something especially important about extending hospitality at Christmas.

“On a day which can both be intensely isolating as well as intensely joyful, we try each year to ensure that our Christmas lunch is something that doesn't just fill the body, but also touches the soul. I love being down there: every year is slightly different, but the aim is the same, to ensure that Surbiton has a little pocket of Bethlehem on Christmas Day.”

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