How 600 kg of pudding built community for a group of seniors in Kitchener, Ont.
Christmas just wasn't the same without The Pudding Factory, says volunteer
Jennifer Uttley remembers Christmas 2020 as a lonely one.
Not only was dinner with her family done over Zoom, due to COVID-19, but the church pudding fundraiser that she's been a part of for decades was cancelled too.
Dubbed the Pudding Factory, the Church of St. John the Evangelist, in Kitchener, Ont., is known for making over a thousand of pounds of Christmas puddings each year.
It raises money for the church, its outreach activities, the food bank and local women's crisis centre and the factory gives volunteers a chance to get to know each other beyond the pews.
"Here, you're working with people and you talk and you start to learn about people in the parish, right?" Uttley told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.
"One of the best things about Pudding Factory is being with other people and getting to know them, and we have some people who aren't members of the parish who volunteer and they come and enjoy it too."
When the Pudding Factory was shuttered in 2020, Uttley was worried it would never reopen. She was concerned about the impact to their charitable work but the social impact too.
"We were locked up," Uttley said. The volunteers organized virtual get-togethers, she said, "but it's not the same as working side-by-side doing the job."
Charles Stuart, a co-coordinator for the Pudding Factory, described its closure it as "absolutely disheartening."
"This is a major event in the life of the church because it's been a tradition at St. John's for 72 years now," he said. "So it's a very long time and people, I think, look forward to the hive of activity that the church becomes during this time."
Pan washing days
Uttley has been going to Church of St. John the Evangelist since 1969 — and was married there too — but didn't start volunteering with the Pudding Factory until the 1980s.
"Oh, it was hard because you were up to your elbows in grease washing the pans," she said with a laugh, thinking back to her first year at the Pudding Factory.
"We didn't have a dishwasher then, so everything was washed by hand. And it was long evenings, so yeah, I was tired. So it was nice to graduate to jobs that are different," she said, laughing again.
Despite the hard work, she continued to volunteer with the fundraiser year after year. She was eventually promoted to fundraiser coordinator and served in that role, up until recently.
Though the lockdowns likely being behind them, Uttley says the Pudding Factory is still finding its footing as they ramp up production once more.
"They're sort of back to normal, except we're still short on volunteers and at the last minute some of our people got COVID and couldn't come," she said. "And they were team leaders."
"So it's not quite normal yet, but it felt a lot better."