By: Krystyn Decker
Another year has passed and Christmas is just around the corner. For a lot of us, Christmas brings joy. We’ll be busy celebrating and spending time with loved ones, cooking up traditional holiday recipes, exchanging gifts and having an excuse to eat as much chocolate as we can handle. It’s full of hustle and bustle, and sometimes amongst all of the chaos, we forget that not everyone is as fortunate to be in the same position as us.
For some, Christmas is a time of challenge and desolation. A time of amplified emotion by constant reminders that maybe they do not have close family or friends, money to spend on gifts, or a nice warm meal to indulge. It’s important we don’t forget this, and we show compassion over the holidays.
The Gathering Place is a non-profit organization in St. John’s which functions as an area for people less fortunate to gather and take advantage of the amenities. They offer all sorts of services from laundry, to showers, to hot meals. They also have designated areas for lounging, arts and crafts, and a room full of instruments which have all been donated by the community. I met with the executive director of The Gathering Place, Joanne Thompson, who was kind enough to give me a full tour of the facility, and offered to speak out on their plan for the holidays.
“We are hosting the Christmas dinner this year, which we’re really excited about. We’ve done it in the past, it’s a community and you know sometimes it moves to other places, but we’re thrilled because we know that so many of the guests that come here, this is their home,” Thompson shared.
“We worry about people’s food security because we know that in this invisibility, when people are not eating here, they’re not eating. What we did last year, we opened Christmas eve and we made sure that we passed out food to people. Most of the food for Christmas dinner is donated, the community is wonderful. It’s a full turkey dinner, so we’re really excited about that. We want it to be, and it always has been, a very respectful event.”
The Gathering Place, and other service centres in town, strive to meet the requirements of the people who are around for Christmas. It’s important to them and all of the volunteers that the people who require a little help over the holidays have the best experience possible.
“As much as there’s lots of food hampers, the challenge for this population is, because they live in such wretched circumstances, so many of them, there’s very little opportunity to cook the food.”
She continues, “For us at Christmas it’s always about how we can give to the people that we know are most at risk. We give them food to take home. We’ll pass out meals, you know, we’ll cook extra the week before Christmas so that again, the people that we know that we have concerns about, we’ll make sure that they go home with a little extra.”
Volunteers play one of the most important roles when it comes to service centres. They’re the ones behind prepping and cooking the meals, keeping the facility clean and operational, and running the facilities’ activities. Without the compassionate people who give their time, the centres would become a lot less functional, and Christmas is a time when a lot of people want to give back to the community.
“We’re always accepting volunteers, we never want to turn anyone away on Christmas day. People volunteer for different reasons, and it’s really important. So we’ll have our regular volunteers who are really dedicated to making this work, and they will be here. But there’s a lot of people from the community that reach out who do want to be part of a Christmas day meal, and our point is that you know, there’s a job for everyone. Just being present is really important,” Thompson explains.
‘Wonderful to Give’
However, it’s definitely not the volunteers who do all of the work around the establishment. The Gathering Place keeps the community based feel by not necessarily treating the people who come in as guests, but as members of a community.
“To just receive diminishes who you are, yes it’s wonderful to receive but it’s really wonderful to give. And so we try to create as many opportunities where we come together and there’s our own celebrations. We have guests perform, we have guests help out now in the dining area, guests who help straighten up the social room during the day. And why shouldn’t they? I mean, if we really are a community then we have to give, and we have to take.”
It’s also really important, this holiday season, to remember that we are all human. We all deserve respect, affection and celebration during the holidays, and always. “We are a community of people. There’s a set of circumstances sometimes that divide us, but you know, burdens are burdens. And sometimes you see them, and sometimes you don’t. But to ever think that I sit above someone else is just so against what we believe, we really are a community of people. No one is served here, people gather here. Whether you’re volunteer staff or guest, it’s that community and we interact as one. And so the Christmas dinner becomes a Christmas celebration, it’s a community celebration.”
For more information on The Gathering Place, to donate, or for volunteer opportunities visit kindnesswanted.ca Donations can be dropped at 172 Military Road, or via telephone at 709-753-3234