Good Shepherd cooks Matthew (left) and Leigh prepare takeout dinners for an estimated 500 guests.

Good Shepherd goes takeout again for annual Christmas feast

By 
  • December 23, 2021

Demand for comfort and joy is up all over, and despite COVID the Good Shepherd Centre in Hamilton is determined to deliver.

For the second year in a row the centre’s famous Christmas feast was reduced to takeout Christmas dinners handed out at the door at 135 Mary St. But going into the Dec. 23 turkey dinner giveaway Good Shepherd Centre director Carmen Salcicciolo expected to hand out more than twice as many dinners as in 2020.

From 221 dinners last year, the Good Shepherd was prepared to hand out 500 dinners this year. They centre knows demand will be high because in October they handed out 458 Thanksgiving dinners.

Unlike normal food bank operations, the holiday feasts are handed out without registration or conditions – “no questions asked,” said Salcicciolo.

In 2019, before COVID, the Good Shepherd welcomed over 2,000 to a sit-down meal, carols and visits from Santa and the Hamilton Convention Centre. The centre tries to make the takeaway meals as festive as possible with turkey, trimmings and treats all boxed up, but it’s just not the same, Salcicciolo concedes. 

“We have to be careful in what we can do, because of the social distancing,” he said. 

The day before the Christmas dinner handout, Salcicciolo was scouring the Good Shepherd Centre for one of the old Santa suits in storage, hoping to liven up folks lined up for the free meal.

Overall demand for the Good Shepherd’s meal programs is up 25 per cent this year. The pandemic has played a role in the increased need, but the biggest factor is higher rents, said Salcicciolo.

“A good number of the folks who come to us for the meal are in receipt of social assistance, whether it’s OW (Ontario Works) or ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program). Those amounts haven’t gone up,” he said. “A room around here is going for – if you can find one for $650 you’re lucky – $700-plus.”

Such a rental room will likely not have kitchen facilities, he said.

The discontinued CERB benefits, which have many Good Shepherd clients facing clawbacks if they did take advantage of the pandemic relief, has also made life more difficult, according to Salcicciolo.

“All of this, when you put it into the pot, creates a very uneasy situation,” he said.

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