For more than three decades, Greg Byrne and his family have shared their Christmas lunch with anyone who’s looking for food, support, or connection during the holiday season.
“In 1986, Father Tony Brady, who was the Parish Priest at the time was worried about people being alone on Christmas Day,” Greg said.
“So, my wife and I said to him we’ll bring our Christmas lunch across to the hall and anyone who wants to join us, can come along.
“That was the start of it, and it’s been going every year since.”
While the numbers fluctuate from year to year, Greg says they usually have about 50 people stop by to share the joy of Christmas.
“There is nothing greatly organised about it, but it all falls into place,” he said.
“We get donations from the community and if there are any shortfalls, I go shopping and St Vincent de Paul help pay for that food.
“It’s wonderful the way it all works out – the good Lord looks after it all for us.”
Come Christmas day the hall, which now also plays host to CatholicCare’s Foster Community Kitchen throughout the year, is transformed into a festive wonderland. There along to help the Byrne family decorate are fellow Foster Parishioners, who also often stay and help prepare and share in the meal.
Greg said over the years he and his family realised that Christmas could be a sad time for people who were separated from their family and friends.
“I’ve kept it going because there is a need for it, there are people that are alone on Christmas and need the company,” he said.
“It’s also part of the meaning of Christmas – giving.
“I used to say to my children on Christmas morning, ‘you’ve got your gifts and now it’s time to give back to others, people who are less fortunate than you’.”
“Celebrating Christmas Day Lunch in the Church Hall, helping to share the meal with community members (who were often strangers to them), was the only way my children knew to experience Christmas Day.
“As they grew older, they appreciated the value in that.”
Every event is special for the family, but Greg has one memory that constantly comes to mind.
“We picked up a lady from an aged care facility one year and she said Christmas Day was a terrible and lonely time for her because all the other families would come and take their grandmothers or grandfathers home with them for Christmas,” he said.
“She didn’t have any family, so she was alone in the village, and it was a sad time for her, so she was most appreciative of being able to get together with people and enjoy lunch.”
When asked why he remained so dedicated to welcoming others, Greg’s answer was simple.
“It’s living out the spirit of Christmas,” he said.
For anyone interested in attending the free lunch, the hall at 31 Lake Street, Forster will be open from 11.30am before lunch is served at 1pm.
Volunteers, diners, and donations are always welcome.