Restaurant operators vow to repeat community Christmas dinner - Jan. 03, 2014
John McNay serves dinner to some of the last guests to arrive for a Christmas dinner offered by McNay’s White House restaurant on Christmas Day.
John McNay scanned the interior of McNay’s White House Restaurant at a number of people dining on turkey with all the trimmings.
He smiled as he answered a simple question as to whether he would open his doors on Christmas Day in 2014.
“Yes,” he said.
Shortly after 4 p.m. on Christmas Day, John and wife Peggy paused to reflect on what can only be described as a successful community Christmas dinner. The restaurant opened its doors for four hours that day, offering a turkey dinner to any who came, by donation to the food bank if possible, and without expectation for those who were otherwise unable to do so.
By closing, some 93 people had dined on the offering, some by donation of a couple of dollars, one customer – identity unknown – who had dropped a $100 bill into the donation bucket.
The ice storm that ripped through the region left more than 7,000 area residents without power, and that, most certainly, had an impact on the demand, said Peggy.
“We had more than what we probably would have, for the first year, because of the storm.”
A number of people called the restaurant on Christmas Day asking if they could come, people who otherwise would have the means to cook their own dinner.
The answer was an emphatic “yes,” Peggy explained.
The restaurant was one of a number of businesses to change plans in response to the storm. While the McNays had planned to close Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, the restaurant remained open – with staff volunteering to surrender their own days off – to help serve the many people left without power.
“People were coming and they had no food,” said Peggy. “We gave all of our staff (time) off. We didn’t know it was going to be this busy.”
Two of those who were grateful for the effort were linemen Dean Morneau and Richard Martin, who arrived in the St. Stephen area on the afternoon of Christmas Day, looking for somewhere to eat before they went to work.
“We’re just happy to find somewhere where they serve food, because everywhere else is closed,” said Morneau, who explained he had spent Christmas Eve working on storm-damaged lines nearer his home in Edmundston.
Martin had, like many of his peers, understood that the ice storm would likely put him to work: he just didn’t know where, when, or for how long.
“We don’t know where we’re going to go today – but I’m not going to worry.”
Martin, also from Edmundston, expressed gratitude.
“We didn’t know it was like, this setup, today. We really appreciate it,” he said, adding that he had no idea he would find a full turkey dinner on Christmas Day in a strange community.
The McNays were also grateful for the many offers of assistance.
On Christmas Day, relatives assisted with serving and cleanup, including four of the couple’s grandchildren. A pair of 14-year-old granddaughters along with a 16-year-old granddaughter gained a little insight, Peggy said.
“A couple of the girls got a bit teary-eyed over some of the people coming in,” said Peggy, of customers who “really needed what we were doing.”
“They needed some company, and the girls really cheered them up,” she said, adding, “This gives them a good idea that we don’t know how lucky we are.”
Peggy also noted that Diane and David Ganong showed up, unannounced, with rubber gloves in hand, ready to do dishes, although there was no need. The two soon returned with several boxes of chocolates to augment dessert.
There were other contributions made as well, and Peggy made note to thank Donna Hawkins, from Pennfield, who made cranberry sauce.
“She called John and said, ‘can I donate cranberries,’ and offered to cook them,” reflected Peggy, who noted another donor, anonymous, arrived before the meal with a bucket of fresh-made sauce as well.
“People are awesome,” said Peggy.
And so, even as Christmas of 2013 was fading away, the two were already planning for the Christmas to come, with a vow to change nothing when they host a Christmas dinner in 2014.
“I think more people might come in, because it went so well,” said Peggy, in closing.