Ray Taylor, holding his son Matthew, along with his daughter Sarah, were full of anticipation for the Christmas dinner at the annual Good Shepherd event at the Hamilton Convention Centre. Michael Swan

Good Shepherd hosts Christmas family feast

  • December 19, 2019

HAMILTON, Ont. -- At 9 a.m. Sunday morning, Dec. 15, Jen Edmonds was one of 800 volunteers contributing to the complex task of welcoming over 2,000 people to the Hamilton Convention Centre for a formal, sit-down Christmas dinner, a visit with Santa, gifts for every child, coats and mittens for those who need them. 

But as soon as she had completed her assigned tasks, she joined the line with her daughter and partner to be among the many to enjoy the annual Christmas feast put on by Hamilton’s Good Shepherd charity.

Edmonds connected with the annual dinner through her Protestant church’s women’s group, which has been an important support for her as a recovering addict struggling to stay clean. The Christmas dinner doesn’t solve the problems of trying to raise three-year-old Celina on the meagre income she gets from Ontario Works, plus food banks and other community supports. But she said it’s a chance for her and her family to feel like they’re part of the season.

Life in Hamilton is getting harder for low-income people, Edmonds said.

“I see the homeless status and the mental health and the addiction issues,” she said. “If anything, it’s got worse.”

Addiction has ravaged the Edmonds family. She lost her sister a couple of years ago in a fire that ripped through a house where she was squatting with other addicts. Her daughter Celina won’t likely meet her father until she’s an adult and he’s out of jail.

Kim Clark and her husband Peyton, with their two-year-old son Chris, were also eagerly anticipating the annual dinner. It was their second time at the annual Good Shepherd Christmas Dinner.

“The people are really, really nice,” Clark said.

She also believes life is getting harder for the poor in Ontario. Even though she and her husband both collect Ontario Disability Support Program payments, it’s not enough to keep them out of the food banks.

In recent years the Good Shepherd Christmas Dinner has become more of a family affair, chasing away some of the single men who make up the majority of Good Shepherd clients. 

From a high of over 2,800 meals served in 2013, the annual Christmas crowd has retreated somewhat. This year it was 2,100, but that shouldn’t be taken as a sign that times are better, said Good Shepherd Hamilton CEO Br. Richard MacPhee. “Those who are poor have become poorer,” he said. 

The biggest reason is housing, particularly the impossibility of finding rents that match with low incomes, he said.

“Various governments have thought that the private market would take care of it,” he said.

Since governments haven’t built affordable housing and private developers can’t make money building modest, cheap apartments, charities have been left holding the bag, MacPhee said.

“The reality of charity today is constantly having to pick up where government has chosen to go elsewhere,” he said.

The annual Christmas dinner is a chance for the Good Shepherd to show its reach into the community. The enormous crowd lined up outside the convention centre and the army of volunteers who show up makes for one of the biggest events of the season in Hamilton.

“We’ve reached out to our partners in the community and told them the story (of the Good Shepherd), which is serving people in need,” MacPhee said.

Along with Hamilton’s mayor, fire chief and police chief, Bishop Douglas Crosby was one of the dignitaries circulating among the guests. “I’m very proud of what the (St. John of God) Brothers at the Good Shepherd do,” he said. 

Crosby is a contributor to the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition that lobbies Queen’s Park on behalf of the poor. Crosby accepts that poverty challenges Church leaders to speak up politically.

“But we do it quietly,” he said. “We’re inviting them to listen.”

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