© Austin M. Davis
Leota Johnson cut pieces of cake during her volunteer shift at Riverside Mission. Lunch on Friday was the first public meal since Dec. 23
Bonds as strong as family add joy to the holidays
Riverside Mission doesn’t need to provide a meal on Christmas Day.
“It’d be nice to have one right on Christmas Day but we figure two in the area is enough,” said Dave Harrison, Riverside’s operations manager.
Bobby’s Place Olde World Tavern and St. Andrew’s United Church hosted free Christmas meals for families and individuals who needed the food, company or both.
For more details about the dinners at Bobby's and St. Andrew's read: Alternatives to a lonely Christmas
Throughout the year, the meals people share at Riverside Mission bring them close together.
“A lot of people know each other, and that’s their family,” Harrison said.
The last meal before Christmas Day at Riverside was a turkey dinner on Dec. 23. Harrison said between 40 and 50 people attended the meal, and gift bags were given out afterwards with items like chocolates, socks, toques and toiletries. Harrison said those gatherings are important, not only for nutritious meals, but for the social interaction.
“For some people it’s more joy, and other people feel a little sad that they’re not with their family,” Harrison said. “They might not enjoy the holidays that much. It helps to have our community meals.”
He pointed out that a sense of community isn’t just important for those who need Riverside’s services. But the holiday season magnifies isolation, especially for those who haven’t seen their families in a long time.
“Some of our guests, they’ve been estranged from their family — for a lot of different reasons — so it’s important to have some connection,” Harrison said. “We’re all social beings. Most like to have interaction, communication and have some good times.”
Harrison said even during Riverside Mission’s regular serving schedule, the kitchen provides more than meals, it provides an inclusive community.
“You go into a restaurant and people might talk within their little table. But here, everybody’s talking from table to table and sometimes across the room,” Harrison said.
On Friday, before the first meal Riverside offered since Dec. 23, a young couple with their three-year-old son walked into the dining area. They were greeted with cheers and exclamations of “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year.”
“That couple used to live here and we’ve helped them out quite a bit. They’re doing a little better now so they don’t come very often,” Harrison said.
The meal guests can even develop a rapport with the volunteers. Harrison said Riverside has a list of volunteers and some give their time on a weekly basis to help prepare and serve the food.
“We do get more people wanting to volunteer around Christmas time,” Harrison said.
Riverside offers lunches on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and suppers on Mondays and Wednesdays.
As for the New Year, Riverside will offer a dinner on Jan. 2 and the regularly-scheduled lunch on Friday.