Sheffield ‘Mrs Christmas’ Gloria Stewart throws huge six-course free lunch party to fight loneliness

The cost of living crisis has caused funding challenges, and the event on December 21 is running at half its usual capacity – but when attendance is normally 500 people, it’s still a massive help for those facing loneliness in Sheffield. Gloria, 73, says: “I would have liked someone to do something like this for my parents if I hadn’t. I’m just trying to give back a little bit.”

She was inspired to organize the first lunch in 2007 after talking to a lady in a hospital waiting room who told her she wasn’t looking forward to Christmas. “She had lost a partner and said nothing was the same. He would fill a flask with tea and go to bed until the festive season was over,” says Gloria.

Gloria doesn’t like Christmas either. She sadly lost her daughter, Jeinelle, in early December 2020 and previously lost her mother, Lil, on Christmas Day. “It was really hard the year Jeinelle went through,” she said. “But I know she would have wanted me to get on with it, so I put bins out in people’s houses.

Gloria Stewart with some of the people at a previous Home Alone Christmas party she organized at the Niagara Center in Sheffield

“I have a wonderful family, we’re very close. With a family, you stick together and get through it, but a lot of people out there don’t have anyone. You have to give them something to look forward to.”

Although many people who attend the luncheon are elderly, often having lost their partners, the event is open to all ages. “I came upon someone at 21,” says Gloria. “His mother died, who was his only family. Finally, he came. He came and cried and thanked us for asking.”

Anyone could be forgiven for thinking that organizing a lunch for hundreds of people, getting donations and finding volunteers was all one person was capable of, but for Gloria, that’s not true. He used to give gloves and bottles to the homeless around Sheffield. “I can’t do that anymore because of funding, but when money allows, I still go out to old people’s homes and get them gifts,” she said. “We used to hug them when it was allowed, just to make them feel cared for. I would do more if I could.”

Gloria, helped by volunteers, makes calls to people on Christmas Day and New Year if they are wary of coming to events in person. Her giving doesn’t stop there, and she often puts in her own money for lunch. “In one year I put £4,000 of my own money into it – I can’t do that again! But whether it goes well or not, it’s from the heart and I know I tried,” she said.

Gloria Stewart with some of the people at an earlier Home Alone Christmas party at the Niagara Center in Sheffield.

There are about 40 spots left at this year’s luncheon, which will be held at the Niagara Conference Center. To sign up to take part, volunteer or for information on how to donate, call Gloria on 07476500073 or 01142570460.

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