Takeout, physically distanced meals: How Manitoba shelters are serving Christmas dinner

Shelters and food banks are gearing up to provide Christmas dinner to Manitobans who need a hot meal, but they face some different challenges this year because of the pandemic.

In other years, a number of Winnipeg charities have hosted feasts with dozens of volunteers. This season, they have public health orders limiting group sizes to contend with.

While gatherings in groups larger than five aren’t allowed, meals for people staying in shelters are permitted. Extra cleaning, masks and physical distancing are required, though.

“We try to make it special as much as we possibly can,” said the Salvation Army’s Maj. Gordon Taylor.

Instead of the big community Christmas feast, which would normally have happened last week, the organization is sending its disaster response vehicles out to deliver hot meals.

For those who live at the shelter, there’s usually a chapel service with musical guests on Christmas Day.

“That part we’re unable to do,” said Taylor, who is executive director of the Salvation Army’s Winnipeg Centre of Hope.

“But we still do the dinner and we’ll still do what we always do at Christmas Day for the people that live in the building — we deliver them some treats and gifts.”

Maj. Gordon Taylor says there’s normally a Christmas service in the chapel at the Salvation Army Centre of Hope. This year, that’s not possible. (Karen Pauls/CBC)

Meanwhile, Siloam Mission is expanding the number of people it can feed in its dining room area — from about 50 to 100 — while maintaining physical distancing. But the indoor dinner will only be for patrons already living at the shelter.

“Those in our shelter will be able to enjoy that inside in the dining room and anybody who is not a shelter guest will be able to have a hot takeout meal,” said Luke Thiessen, Siloam’s communications manager.

There will be about 300 meals to go for those who use the mission’s services regularly, he said.

Union Gospel Mission is postponing its holiday meal until the new year, because there are hot meals already planned for December by other organizations.

Still accepting donations

For those looking to spread some Christmas cheer, the charities all say they could use some help.

“Christmas is usually a big fundraising time for the Salvation Army, and it’s down this year because we’re not able to really do what we normally do with our kettles and the shopping centres,” Taylor said.

Siloam Mission is also asking the public for donations to help provide hot meals, hygiene items and shelter for vulnerable Manitobans.

Union Gospel Mission is urgently in need of new underwear, socks, winter clothes, tampons and pads, Advil and Tylenol, and milk, according to its website.

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