Christmas Day is a time of giving - and for Chesterfield’s answer to Mother Christmas it’s the best day of the year.
Mydudu Gaven organises festive lunches for the elderly, lonely and homeless, helped by an army of volunteers.
She said: “Television adverts show Christmas as a magical time of year with lights, presents and family. But for some the reality is very different.
“I’m on my own, I don’t have any family and I find Christmas quite a difficult time.”
Six years ago South African-born Mydudu, 34, decided to launch Christmas Day lunches. The first was held at the Trumpeters Inn in Grangewood before transferring to bigger premises at Whittington Moor Methodist Church.
Food is donated by well-wishers and supermarkets and for the second year running, workers at Mes Amis restaurant will be cooking turkey and vegetables provided by the eatery.
More than 20 volunteers help to prepare food at the church, serve it and run an afternoon of games before the guests leave with a shoebox of gifts.
Mydudu, who lives in New Whittington and works for social services, said: “I have the best time of my life on Christmas Day, seeing people enjoying themselves, getting hugs and kisses and laughing,
“I cater for a hundred people. Some people just turn up on the day - I would never turn anyone away.
“Last year a lady whose dad had died a couple of months before just turned up. She was outside for a long time crying and some of the volunteers went out to comfort her. After a while she came in. I kept in touch with her after Christmas to see if she was okay.
“Another man came for Christmas Day lunch for the first time last year. Ever since January, he has called me every week to ask me not to forget him at Christmas.”
Volunteer Anuruegbe Chimereze said: “I always remember how one of the attendees cuddled up in his new blanket underneath one of the dinner tables. He said he felt at home - and would never miss it for the world.”
Heart-warming sights such as this help to make the Christmas lunch a cherished experience for Anuruegbe.
He said: “Christmas is usually a time earmarked to be spent with family and loved ones. In light of this fact, most people tend to forget the lonely and vulnerable adults and senior citizens as well as the homeless, and young adults who need a friend, this one day of the year.
“In a loving community like Chesterfield, it is important to promote and boost the same kind gesture beyond the boundaries of blood relations and close social circle.”
Anuruegbe, who has been helping with the lunch since 2013, is staggered by the generosity of the community. He said: “It is amazing how people ring up every day, to have donations collected. It restores one’s hope in humanity.
“People don’t not have to be excessively rich to share. The kindness of the Derbyshire community is simply addictive and overwhelming. The most important bit is that all donations are given with smiles and are much appreciated.”
Anuruegbe, 32, won’t be helping out at this year’s festive meal. He is temporarily living in Nigeria where he is in the final stage of a law career before being called to the Bar to practise as a barrister.
He said: “I have taken a cue from the Christmas lunch to organise a similar event in Nigeria in years to come.”
John Batty heads up the transport side of the lunch, arranging drivers, planning routes and organising the 16-seater vans which are provided by Perrys motor dealers. Lunch guests are picked up from as far away as Clay Cross, Holymoorside and Staveley.
He said: “For a lot of people, the Christmas lunch is the highlight of their year. Taking them back to their various residences, they are really buzzing and they’ve had a great time.”
Dad of two John, 55, who runs a marketing consultancy and lives on Whittington Moor, said: “You get people from late teens all the way through to the 80s attending the lunches. One of the slightly chastening things is that you are putting a sticking plaster over what is for a lot of the people a very hard life. Whatever their reason for being a guest at the Christmas meal there is a really sad story behind it whether it be addiction, loneliness or mental health.
“I feel Christmas is incredibly commercialised and has lost a bit of its soul. The lunch is doing something positive to help others.”
Mike Spriggs, who has been a member of the Methodist Church since it opened 35 years ago and is its treasurer, said: “We believe it is part of our mission work here to provide clean, warm premises for people we would never see in the church. I’ve never seen a hint of trouble at the lunches; there’s no alcohol, no smoking, no swearing.
“I liken the lunches to the feeding of the five thousand - there always seems to be more stuff left than when we started. The fresh stuff is taken to Pathways or the soup kitchen for use on Boxing Day.
“Mydudu is a Santa Claus figure for the homeless.”
Brian Nettleton, 76, helped out at the first two lunches. He said: “Mydudu is always doing things for other people. She is jovial, efficient and she’s got a gift for organisation.”
Paul King, secretary of Christians Together for Chesterfield, said: “Mydudu is an amazing little person with a very big heart. She is a bundle of energy and goodwill. She is like Mother Christmas.”
n Anyone wishing to find out more about the Christmas Day lunch can contact Mydudu on 07585554976.