International students from more than 300 host families in the Stratford area were among the hundreds who attended the 26th annual To Stratford with Love Banquet.
They also helped deliver some holiday cheer when they took the stage to sing a lively rendition of the Christmas classic Feliz Navidad. The performance in some ways embodied what the annual event has come to mean for so many.
“It helps build a sense of community,” said Ruth Kneider, who organizes the dinner with her husband Richard. “When we first started this, we never expected it to be as large.”
All 1,000 tickets were distributed ahead of this year’s dinner, and more than 800 people were seated inside the community hall at the Rotary Complex when the beef, baked potatoes and vegetables were served.
The turnout was significantly higher than what Richard Kneider had been anticipating.
“I’m more excited about this year than any other,” he smiled after seeing the nearly full tables.
As usual, a large amount of the food served, including pies and ice cream, was donated. Between 160-170 volunteers made sure the evening went off without a hitch.
Ruth said she hoped the dinner shined a light on the true meaning of Christmas and the importance of fellowship and not being materialistic at this time of the year.
“Bless you, Merry Christmas, and hope to see you next year,” she told those in attendance.
– With files from Miranda Cook