A special opportunity for civilians to reach out in gratitude to veterans, the 8th annual Take a Veteran to Dinner is this Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Tudor Hall in Ottawa.
“This is an opportunity for those who haven’t served to thank you to those that have,” said Tobin Kelly Chair of the Organizing Committee and founder.
Members of the community are invited to host veterans, currently serving CAF members and their partners. Hosts contribute to the dinner by paying for not only their ticket but also for the veteran they are hosting.
Mostly people host veterans they know but many times, Kelly says, veterans and civilians both are interested in the event but don’t know of anyone. This is where Kelly comes in and matches the veterans to a host.
“Those meetings are fun to see happen, the conversations and them getting to know each other, it’s fun to be a part of,” recalled Kelly.
There are 50 matches this year.
The dinner is an intimate gathering and allows attendees to mingle and swap stories.
“Just hearing the older vets sharing their stories with the younger veterans who fought in Afghanistan, and trying to one-up each other in their stories, it’s been fun to listen on to,” laughed Kelly.
The evening begins with a cocktail hour at 5:00 as guests start filing in. Dinner is announced promptly at 6:00 with a piper making a trip around the room. The night filled with toasts, recognitions of the veterans and giveaways. The dinner is typically attended by Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson who makes a toast. Local artists donate their work to the event to be given away and used as a backdrop on stage.
The dinner also invites guest speakers. This year’s speaker is a CAF captain who was deployed to Afghanistan. Previous speakers have been a mix of veterans, historians and notable figures including Jody Mitic and Holocaust survivor Eva Olsson.
This year’s dinner is at maximum capacity with an attendance of 120 guests. The dinner has grown exponentially since its first year in 2008 that hosted 65 guests.
Kelly, an Ottawa resident math, ESL and special education teacher, was inspired to start a Take a Veteran Dinner in Ottawa after hearing about a similar event in Orillia, ON.
“I thought it was a really nice gesture, and it’s something that should happen in every city and town across Canada,” stated Kelly.
Kelly and his wife, Darlene Moll, work hard every year to spread the word and organize the event.
Over the years, the dinner has gained a lot of traction not only in the local community but around the country. Organizations like the Legion and the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre, and local businesses have contributed financially and the Ottawa Citizen runs free ads for event. People come in for the event from as far as Kingston. Kelly has even received calls from people in from various cities like Edmonton asking for tips on how to start a dinner in their community. Kelly says it’s “just a matter of someone booking a hall.”
“No matter the age of the participants, the feedback we get is overwhelmingly positive from both the hosts and vets. When you get all these people in a room, wanting to be there together, it makes for a really nice evening,” said Kelly
Please call 613-239-4035 for tickets or visit www.veteransdinner.ca for more details, to become a civilian host, or to be matched with a host.