Gerald Jordan from the Knights of Columbus, Toronto Council 1388, helps out in the kitchen at Good Shepherd Ministries, where the annual Boxing Day feast will feed more than 1,200. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Good Shepherd’s holiday meal a satisfying experience for all

  • December 17, 2016

Two simple words are all the payment Carla Martella needs for helping the Good Shepherd Ministries provide a holiday meal to the homeless and those in need.

“It just takes one client to say ‘thank you’ and it just makes your day,” said the 62-year-old. “It is very exhausting and it is tiring but for what we get back in return it is wonderful. I think I get more out of it than the clients do.”

For almost four years, Martella, along with her brother Paul, have been giving up a portion of their annual holidays — Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving — to help feed a growing number of Torontonians, most of whom would otherwise spend the time begging on the street.

“We were brought up with the Catholic values and that commitment to always giving,” she said. “We were fortunate to have a home and to have food on the table but not everybody is.”

According to the Good Shepherd’s records, in 2002 about 693 Christmas meals were served at their 412 Queen St. E. location where the Catholic outreach can accommodate about 155 in their cafeteria at one time. Last year the number of Christmas meals almost doubled with about 1,267 receiving the free festive food.

Although the siblings had talked about volunteering during the holidays for more than a decade, it was the passing of Martella’s sister-in-law which turned their intentions into actions.

“She died in an accident in January (2013) and we knew that life would change, as it does,” she said. “We needed a new Christmas time tradition. We needed to do something different and the best thing was to volunteer.”

Four years later, this Boxing Day, the Martella siblings will be found once again serving up the Good Shepherd’s Christmas meal from noon until 2:30 p.m.

“It is like you are meeting up with your friends again,” said Carla, an event specialist with the World Wildlife Fund Canada. “There is a camaraderie feeling that you get with the other volunteers. My brother has even reconnected with some people he used to work with.”

There is typically about 75 volunteers assisting with either sorting raw food, preparing the meals or serving the clients. During the two weeks leading up to Boxing Day, dozens of other volunteers are needed around the Good Shepherd to set up for the big day.

But it is more than this labour that the volunteers have provided, added Adrienne Urquhart, a spokesperson for the Good Shepherd.

“The warmth and compassion shown by the volunteers means so much to our guests,” she said. “The Boxing Day meal is an important day to share our blessings with our community. Without the volunteers we could not provide the Boxing Day meal.”

This year’s volunteers will assist with as many as 1,600 meals as the Good Shepherd’s staff expects demand to inflate yet again.

Put all the ingredients together and it will amount to about 1,000 pounds (450 kgs) of roast beef as well as the same amount of potatoes, 530 pounds (240 kgs) of mixed vegetables and 100 litres (26 gallons) of gravy. There will be some 1,800 buns, 1,600 single-serving butters and 260 eight-inch (20 cm) pies.

And with bigger meals comes the need for more planning, specifically when it comes to logistics and storage.

“As demand has increased, the meal requires more planning and donations of time and product,” said Urquhart

“Food prices have (also) increased … and the Good Shepherd Ministries’ food budget is not large considering we will serve close to 500,000 meals this year. It is always a challenge to raise fund through donations.”

And if money isn’t something you have to give, Martella said almost everyone can find a little time to volunteer.

“It takes just a few hours of your time to make somebody feel comfortable and feel happy,” she said. “No matter what the circumstance … you just have to give back.”

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