Siloam Mission treats hundreds of homeless in Winnipeg to Thanksgiving lunch

An army of volunteers and the staff of Siloam Mission in Winnipeg rallied together to serve as many as 700 hundred hot meals to people experiencing homelessness at the mission’s annual Thanksgiving lunch Friday afternoon.

It’s the first year since the COVID-19 pandemic that the organization which serves the unhoused population in Winnipeg’s inner-city community, has been able to hold their annual Thanksgiving meal at full capacity.

“It’s such a special day for us every year doing Thanksgiving lunch, being able to bring together volunteers, donors and community and do something a little more special than the normal meal,” said communications manager Luke Thiessen.

Volunteers from all backgrounds were on hand, preparing food in the kitchen and serving those who turned up to eat. 

Ed Benner had previously volunteered with Siloam in their computer section, but it was his first time volunteering to serve at a Thanksgiving lunch. 

“Doing this and helping people out, that’s the perfect thing to do,” said Benner, carrying a plate of food. 

Thomas Rempel-Ong has been a volunteer with Siloam since 2019. He said there is always a call for extra support whenever there are holiday meals, and so when he received the call he decided to add an extra day to his regular volunteer hours. 

Volunteers Penny Maletic, left, and Jen Kjartanson, right, help to prepare meals at Siloam Mission’s Thanksgiving lunch. (Bert Savard/CBC)

“It’s good to be able to give back,” Rempel-Ong said. 

“A lot of places are short staffed, struggling to get people in and that includes volunteers, especially over the summer … when I’m able to help out, I pitch in.”

Joe Richard says he’s been coming to lunch for more than 15 years. He said Siloam helped him quite a bit earlier in his life, and so now that he’s retired, he gives back to the mission as much as he can. 

Joe Richard said he’s been coming to the Thanksgiving lunch for more than 15 years. (Bert Savard/CBC)

Richard said he works in the dish pit, washing dishes, each Saturday. He started out as a volunteer and would get a meal in exchange for serving, until one day it turned into a job. 

He also gets clothes from the mission but doesn’t sleep there. Richard said he is most thankful for the counselling support the mission provided him after his first and second wives both died. 

“They showed me a program and that program they do here is pretty good … [got] me through my mourning,” he said.

Need for real help

The mission now has a capacity of 143 beds and as the temperature begins to drop in Winnipeg, Thiessen said they expect to see a full house every night, owing to the present state of homelessness in the city. 

Thiessen said the mission wants to see more being done to help people get off the street. That includes a greater commitment to housing, by the government and mayoral candidates, so that people can move out of temporary emergency shelters like Siloam into long-term housing sooner. 

He said there is a need for affordable housing that meets people’s needs and which factors in supports which many people experiencing homelessness may need, in addition to shelter. 

“The needs are complex and they’re significant and they’re increasing,” said Thiessen.

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