What does it take to serve a community Christmas lunch?

published on 21 Dec 2018

Lowestoft Christmas 2018

- 24 kilos of turkey crown, almost 500 potatoes, more than 700 Brussels sprouts… and an Army -


Up and down the UK, thanks to generous donors, Salvation Army centres and churches will be hosting community lunches for people who may otherwise be alone over Christmas. One of these churches is Lowestoft Citadel, where it’s not just the shopping list – which comprises 24 kilos of turkey crown, almost 500 potatoes and more than 700 Brussels sprouts, among other Christmas table essentials – that requires detailed planning in order to serve 120 people.


Starting as early as October, 33 year old volunteer and full-time paediatric nurse, Lisa King, coordinates a big team in the lead-up to Christmas Day lunch. She says: “For many people, Christmas is a reminder of what they haven’t got – they are in need or they are sad. It’s important that everyone has the opportunity to come together, even if it’s for a short time. It has to be special.”

Lowestoft Citadel’s Christmas Day starts at 10.30am with a church service. The meal starts at 12.30pm, followed by entertainment. The day ends at 4pm when guests are given a goody bag, which includes a Christmas food parcel, special toiletries and a Christmas card from The Salvation Army.

In 2017, The Salvation Army in Lowestoft served a Christmas Day roast dinner for more than 120 people, including twenty volunteers. Guests come to The Salvation Army for a variety of reasons. Some may otherwise spend Christmas Day alone and others are experiencing homelessness.

Echo and her partner Stephen were homeless and found themselves sleeping rough over Christmas five years ago.

She says: “When we were homeless we were really scared. My wheelchair was pinched. When we found The Salvation Army things just clicked. From that time we’ve built ourselves up. We’ve managed to sort money out with the help of The Salvation Army. We found that there were people that could help us and they didn’t want anything in return.”


Echo and Stephen are now Salvation Army church members and volunteer throughout the year. They have been helping on Christmas Day since 2014, having found accommodation with the help of The Salvation Army. Echo says: “Christmas Day is great because we have a service in the morning and then we all muck in to get dinner ready and make sure everyone who comes is happy. Steven does the tables and hoovering afterwards. I do what I can because of my health.”

The planning for Lowestoft Christmas Day meal starts in October when Lisa meets with the cook, Roberto, to plan the meal and contacts local supermarkets to get an idea of the food they may be able to donate. Lisa has to coordinate a huge spread so every little donation helps. Because of the ongoing support from donors, Lisa can put together a shopping list worthy of a Christmas Day celebration. It includes:

  • 24 kilos of turkey crown
  • 480 potatoes
  • 720 Brussels sprouts
  • 480 carrots and parsnips
  • 200 sausages
  • Two kilos of bacon
  • Three jars of honey
  • Eight pints of cream
  • 120 Yorkshire puddings
  • 50 mince pies
  • 50 slices of Christmas pudding
  • A Christmas cake
  • A trifle
  • Fruit salad


Other volunteer roles include transporting guests, laying and decorating the tables, making up goody bags for each guest, helping prepare vegetables, serving meals and cleaning up.


On Christmas Eve, volunteers arrive at 10am to cook the turkeys, set the tables and prepare vegetables. Then on Christmas Day, Lisa arrives at 7am to help in the kitchen. Lisa says the chef runs a ‘tight ship’ which is essential because there is only one oven. The main challenge, she says, is keeping everything hot, something which was made easier when they started hiring a food warmer.

Lisa says: “I wouldn’t spend Christmas any other way. In the lead up to the day, I’ve constantly got things going through my head – did we order enough of this, have we remembered to do that – but when it comes together, I know it’s the right thing to do. I never want to think someone was on their own and they didn’t need to be.”


Lisa says her Christian faith inspires her to keep going year after year and volunteer her time on top of her demanding job. She says: “I believe we are called to remember those who have less.”

After Christmas Day volunteering at The Salvation Army, Lisa is back to working on the paediatric ward on Boxing Day before spending time with family. She says: “My family and friends are very supportive and help in any way they can. My parents came to lend a hand one year.

“It is really thanks to the many volunteers who help year after year, including driving to collect the guests and take them home, the cook and his wife, the massive amounts donations that we receive from local shops and local businesses who never fail to remember us.”

The Salvation Army’s centres and community churches run a variety of services for people in need over Christmas, including Christmas meals, winter night shelters for rough sleepers, carol concerts and a Christmas present appeal that ensures families who might not get anything at Christmas receive a gift.