Zenzie and Nathaniel Rees take a break from serving Christmas dinner to pose for a mother and son portrait at The Good Shepherd Refuge. Photo courtesy of The Good Shepherd

Lending a hand becomes a Christmas tradition

  • December 24, 2012

Christmas dinner comes a day late for Zenzie Rees, who forgoes cooking the traditional holiday meal at home and instead volunteers and eats at The Good Shepherd Refuge on Boxing Day. Rees volunteers her time to serve Christmas dinner with about 80 others from noon until 2:30 p.m. at the downtown mission.

“When we serve the traditional Christmas dinner to those who are less fortunate, we as volunteers sit down and have the exact same food that they’re having after,” said Rees, 38. “That is our holiday meal in itself.”

Four years ago Rees decided to abandon the stress of preparing a meal and use her energy to help others. With a little research she soon found out about The Good Shepherd, the refuge established in 1963 by the Brothers of the Good Shepherd.

After enlisting her mother and son Nathaniel, who was 12 at the time, the trio began what would become a Christmas tradition.

“I just wanted to do something different instead of the whole Christmas dinner hoopla with your family,” said Rees. “We’re helping others who are not as fortunate as ourselves. Us giving back, that’s our big deal.”

But Rees isn’t the grinch who stole Christmas away from her son, now 16. At their home in Pickering on Dec. 25 the halls are decked, presents wait wrapped under the tree and stockings are stuffed. The only thing missing when Nathaniel wakes up to see what Santa brought is the smell of turkey, but he doesn’t mind.

“He is an old soul so it’s not a big thing for him,” said his mother. “He’s so good with it … he’s never complained. He’ll tell his friends that he can’t do something because he has this commitment.”

Since the mission does its Christmas dinner a day later, Rees’ son still gets a taste of Christmas by visiting family members and picking at their holiday meal. That’s part of the reason why The Good Shepherd originally decided to host the event on Boxing day.

“The reason we do it on Boxing day is because there is a lot of other places serving a Christmas dinner on Christmas day for the homeless and less fortunate,” said Br. David Lynch, The Good Shepherd’s executive director. “If we serve on Christmas day we get only about 200 to 300 people.”

Each year Rees sees about 1,400 people come together as a family to celebrate the season over turkey with all the trimmings.

“Every holiday service there seems to be a core group of folks that are there all the time,” said Rees. “It’s family, extended, but it’s family.”

Although the experience is more exhausting than preparing a dinner at home, said Rees, the reward is priceless.

“It’s just go go go from about noon till 2:30 p.m. It’s two and a half hours hustling around on your feet,” she said. “(But) it is totally self-gratifying. Hands that help are holier than lips that pray.”

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