Belfast Telegraph

Everyone's welcome as caring Northern Ireland cafe serves up festive cheer for guests

By Leona O'Neill

A big-hearted cafe owner is throwing open his doors to the elderly and lonely on Christmas Day for a special festive celebration.

Claudes Cafe on Londonderry's Shipquay Street has been quietly putting on 'Caring Christmas at Claudes' for 12 years, inviting people who are on their own on the big day to come and celebrate with them.

Staff collect guests from home, ferry them to the cafe, feed them, give them presents, provide musical entertainment and deliver them back home again.

They also provide a Christmas dinner delivery system where volunteers go out to homes across the city and spend time with those who need company on what can be the hardest day of the year for many.

Dermot O'Donnell is the Caring Christmas at Claudes co-ordinator, alongside Claudes owner Declan Moore. He says the invite is open to those who are "facing the challenges life throws at us" this Christmas.

"We've been doing it now for a long time," he said. "The first year we did it we all came home spellbound with the beautiful adage that the giver is the receiver.

"We were blown away and because we were humbly and honestly doing it, the guests felt it too.

"They felt like guests, they didn't feel like they were coming to some sort of soup kitchen or that it was hand-outs. It was done with great dignity.

"There is no one rejected at Caring Christmas at Claudes - as long as there is no drink taken. We have had guests who are street drinkers but we just tell them to stay sober on the day and we have had years where we delivered dinners out onto the streets to the lads."

Mr O'Donnell said it's about "a dignified sense of giving at Christmas".

He added: "Everyone is collected and brought to the cafe, treated as a guest and left home safe. Or we can arrange for dinner to be brought to you by two people.

"Perhaps you are happy to stay on your own and just receive the dinner at the door or, if you are happy, the two people will come in at your invitation, warm the dinner up and sit with you and chat to you for a while. We try to stay away from that label of hand-out or charity. They are very much invited guests."

Mr O'Donnell said guests have a wide variety of challenges.

"It could be finances, it could be circumstances, it could be everything that life throws at us," he added.

"We had a family one year whose house had burnt down just before Christmas, for example.

"So it's the full gamut of life, who are challenged in one way or another. They are welcomed here with open arms, they are served dinner, they are given presents, they have good company and they are left home feeling good.

"It's like a private invitation guest list for a spectrum of society who maybe wouldn't be treated that way and their dignity is so important to us."

Dermot says that the feeling he gets at the end of the day, when he and the team have cooked dinner for 120 people, is one of magic and wonder, the true meaning of Christmas.

Anyone who would like to attend Caring Christmas at Claudes or volunteer on the day, can call Claudes on 02871 279379, call at Claudes Cafe on Shipquay Street or private message them on their Facebook page.

Belfast Telegraph

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