Fr. Avinash Colaco, Rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral, explained that people had been asking when we would host another sit-down meal. When Bishop McGrattan suggested a Thanksgiving dinner, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. Both guests and volunteers were excited for that day.
The program has made some changes. In the past, the meals were cooked right on site and served. But now they are catered. For now, a hybrid program is in place where guests have the option to sit-down and eat, or to receive a takeout package.
“This is a new system that we are developing” said Fr. Avi, adding that the program will run on Sundays for 48 weeks this year.
“I enjoyed the chance to go to each and every table and talk to the guests that came in. Building relationships with our community members is an important aspect of our program.”
Alejandro Henao, coordinator of the Feed the Hungry Program with the Diocese, said the Sunday Thanksgiving meal, which was sponsored by St. Mary’s Parish in Cochrane, was the first sit-down meal since March 2020 when they were put on hold due to the pandemic.
“Our Thanksgiving meal consisted of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, green beans and a salad. Dinner was topped off with dessert, a choice of apple crumble or pumpkin pie and whipping cream. Fresh coffee, lemonade and water were also provided.
“We are very grateful to all volunteers for their commitment and understanding through the transition,” he said. "376 guests were thrilled to be able to come in and relax and enjoy music while they ate their meal, while another 120 preferred to continue with the takeout option. Each guest left with a food package containing fresh fruit, granola bar, trail mix, juice and water.”
During the past two years of the pandemic, the program continued but only with the takeout option. Henao said it hasn’t been decided yet if the takeout option will continue with the program now that sit-down meals are back.
“It was great to be back. The volunteers were really excited and happy. They have been obviously kind of asking for this for the last six, seven months after the (health) restrictions were lifted,” he said. “For the clients it was positive too . . . We also had a pianist playing some music that weekend to provide more excitement and promote a warm environment for dinner.”
Carla Neary, who has been a volunteer for about 15 years and has been area lead for about seven years, said she continued to come in and volunteer during COVID.
“My mandate was to get us back in the hall for a sit-down meal. (Thanksgiving) Sunday was an amazing day . . . Food was provided by Spolumbo’s and Sunterra which was fabulous and it was just great to have our guests back in our dining hall and all the volunteers. I haven’t seen so many of them for so long,” she said.
“Everybody was appreciative. Everybody was so happy to be back into the hall. We had live music. It was just a lovely afternoon and everything worked out really well.”
The Feed the Hungry Program continues to encourage people to volunteer for this rewarding ministry. At least 60 volunteers are needed at each dinner. They also invite organizations and corporations to sponsor dinners as a way to provide their staff and stakeholders with meaningful opportunities to do good work and build community.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers