The Bread of Life Centre, Port Alberni Shelter Society and the Ty Watson House are all working hard to provide those in need with a hot meal and gifts this Christmas season.
The Bread of Life on Third Avenue is a place of last resort for residents in need of a meal, companionship and support. No one is turned away from a meal as long as they respect other guests, volunteers and staff, Each year the centre serves 26,000 meals.
On Christmas Eve the centre will serve a hot meal of turkey with all the trimmings at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.
“I usually give out about 150 tickets,” said Dawn McMillan, Bread of Life facility manager.
Tickets can be picked up at the Bread of Life Centre from Monday to Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 12 p.m.
This year the dinner will be held at the Bread of Life, where in the past it has been held at Trinity Church.
McMillan said she will set up several tables in a long row so that everybody is sitting together.
“I’ll be doing the cooking along with my kitchen assistant,” McMillan said. “We will decorate the tables. I love catering… my favourite part is decorating.”
To purchase the turkeys for the Christmas Eve dinner, McMillan said they use Quality Foods vouchers and points donated by the community. She added that churches in the Valley will also donate much of the food.
“It’s going to be nice, it’s a family here. I call it our Bread of Life family,” McMillan said.
Those in attendance will also receive holiday gifts that McMillan wanted to keep a surprise. Everyone will also receive a Christmas cracker made by elementary students in the community.
“I couldn’t do this without my volunteers. There’s three of us staff and the rest are volunteers” McMillan said.
The Bread of Life Centre will also host a New Year’s Eve celebration on Saturday, Dec. 31 from 7–11:30 p.m.
“We will move tables around and bring in games like foosball, bingo and we’ll have sandwiches, appies and drinks. It’s family friendly,” McMillan said.
Everyone that comes for the celebration will receive a free ticket to be entered in a draw for a “big prize.”
“A lot of the people that come here, it’s not that they have addictions, it’s just that they don’t have anybody. That’s why I love to do these things,” McMillan said.
The Port Alberni Shelter Society also does a hot Christmas meal in the afternoon on Dec. 25 for shelter residents at their Eighth Avenue facility and their Phoenix Rooming House on Fifth Avenue.
“We have a fairly nice Christmas dinner for the clients that are residing [at the shelters] and through support from Rotary and other organizations in the community they all get gift bags, so they get Christmas presents on Christmas morning,” said Wes Hewitt, shelter society executive director.
Hewitt said the shelter has a Christmas tree set up and other holiday decorations and that snacks are put out throughout the day on Dec. 25.
“We try and make it as special as possible,” Hewitt said. “I think anybody that’s warm and having a good meal is happy about it.”
Hewitt said Christmas time and January can be particularly tough times for a lot of the individuals that access the shelter.
“Like a lot of people in the community they’re either estranged from their family or away from family and it can be trying,” Hewitt said.
“If you’re deep in an addiction or you have mental health problems quite often your connections to family and friends are somewhat stressed. That’s a lot of the reason why some of these individuals are at the shelter.”
The shelter’s Christmas meal is funded through regular donors in the community.
“We welcome donations of absolutely pretty much anything. Like most organizations, the biggest thing that we need is money,” Hewitt said.
He said throughout the year, Port Alberni’s Rotary Club donates bags of socks, mittens, underwear and toiletries and other community organizations and businesses will often donate sweaters, jackets and shoes that can all be used as gifts this time of year.
“CUPE donates to us every year and we use that money for Christmas and for functions,” Hewitt said.
The Alberni Valley Hospice Society celebrate with a Christmas dinner for Ty Watson House residents and families.
The society decorates fully for the season and will typically have carolers come at least once to perform at the house.
In addition to a Christmas meal, baked goods are available at the house to help residents feel like they are home for the holidays.