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Twillingate dinner theatre raising $50,000 for Christmas hampers

Lloyd Watkins helps assemble a Christmas hamper during last year's push to help people during the Christmas season.
Lloyd Watkins helps assemble a Christmas hamper during last year's push to help people during the Christmas season. - Contributed

The main hall of the Twillingate-New World Island Dinner Theatre is in business mode. 
Rows of circular tables, draped in gray tablecloths, fill the space as the company presents its final two weeks of popular shows. 
Musical instruments are set up on the stage, and the kitchen is busy preparing the night’s meals. 
By the middle of December, the hall undergoes a transformation. 
Round tables are pushed to the side. 
Longer, cafeteria-style tables are set up, and become a staging area for Ernie Watkins and his wife Cathy Brown. 
Walking from table to table with a list in hand, theatre group members will divvy up a massive amount of supplies into Christmas hampers. 
Into those hampers will go meats, vegetables, canned foods, pasta, pies and more. Each hamper will contain enough groceries to help feed a family for a month. 
“If we can give them groceries for a month, then that frees up money that is needed elsewhere,” said Watkins. 
The dinner theatre hosts shows six days a week from the end of May to late September, and money raised the last three years has been used by Watkins to fund the Christmas hamper initiative. The first year the group raised roughly $23,000. 
Ticket sales in 2018, along with donations, allowed them to generate $38,000. 
This year, Watkins set a goal of $50,000 and is currently sitting at $44,000 raised. 
In the second year, members were helped by local church groups as they delivered hampers from Twillingate to Embree and communities in between. 
“We’ve been helping all of our lives,” said Watkins. “I never thought it was needed as much as it is.” 
Watkins and his wife moved home from Alberta several years ago and were surprised at what they met. 
They saw young families trying to survive and senior citizens just hanging on. That’s when they decided to start the hamper project. 
“It really opened my eyes,” said Watkins of the amount of people who needed help. 
When theatre season is over, the group will head to St. John’s for two weeks where, as Watkins puts it, they will shop till they drop. 
They will comb through advertising flyers looking for deals to ensure money is spread as far as it can. 
Wherever possible, they’ll shop locally. 
Watkins would like to distribute hampers in smaller communities from his home to as far away as Gander Bay. 
The goal this year is to help 150 households in as many places as possible. 
“This comes from a desire to help,” said Watkins. "I'll go to Grand Falls-Windsor if I have to."

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