Free Christmas meals in Arnprior, Ont. halted by health unit

ARNPRIOR, ONT. — For the past three weeks, Darren Wood and his team of volunteers have been working to prepare more than 200 Christmas meals for people in need around Arnprior.

But all that work is set to be thrown out, literally, with the Renfrew County and District Health Unit (RCDHU) telling Wood that the meals cannot be served to the public.

“The main sticking point was that the main part of the meal, the turkeys, were cooked by myself and volunteers in our homes, as opposed to in an inspected kitchen,” says Wood. “This is how it’s been done, though, for the last 12 years.”

Many seniors and those struggling financially count on the turkey dinners that the Arnprior Community Christmas Dinner prepares at Christmas time. Shirley Church is one of those seniors. She lives alone in an apartment complex.

“I thought of myself and all the other lonely people, elderly people that are alone, especially this Christmas with this pandemic going on,” says Church. “I was very disappointed.”

Church uses a wheelchair to get around and has personal support workers help prepare her meals. “They’ll help me do my potatoes, and do my carrots and that for me,” says Church. “I have no family, can’t share it with anybody, and now no meal.”

In a statement, the RCDHU said, “A food safety investigation was conducted by a public health inspector. Based on the findings, the food was not prepared in accordance with safe food handling practices as per the Food Premises Regulation under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.7. The operator was told that the turkeys could not be consumed by the public, especially by the vulnerable population.”

It’s a reality Wood says he can’t wrap his head around.

“They want me to throw out 30-plus turkeys instead of feeding 211 hungry people,” he says.

The health unit also informed Wood that if anyone were to become sick or die from the meals, he could be held criminally responsible.

After posting her disbelief of the situation online, members of the community have offered to help Church this Christmas.

“I have two special guardian angels who are very dear to me,” she says.

As for Wood, he understands the health concerns, but it doesn’t cool his frustrations. He says, once the impending provincewide lockdown is over, he is going to get all the meals out and ensure they are cooked to standard.

“We’re going to keep everything except the turkeys and cook up another 30 turkeys after the lockdown and deliver them, except we’ll do it with the help of a local restaurant or organization.”

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