Rent or food? Holiday dinners help ease the burden

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017 11:38pm


Image Caption

Christmas day dinner at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre Society was sponsored by Siew Gan and Lillian Lim.


Thirty volunteers worked hard at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre on Christmas day to serve turkey, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetables and pie.

By Shari Narine
Windspeaker Contributor

(January 4, 2017)  The good news? More rental properties are available and affordable in Calgary, allowing people to move out of shelters. The bad news? Social supports aren’t enough to afford both food and rent.

“People are struggling to meet their food needs, so while the food bank numbers are up, ours too, are also up,” said Jordan Hamilton, manager, external relations for the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre Society. “People come to us because of homelessness and poverty.”

The drop-in centre served 3,500 meals Christmas day and 1,300 meals New Year’s Eve.

“It’s roughly the same number as the previous year,” said Hamilton, who notes that the meals served at the drop-in centre – three meals each day and every day of the week – over the course of 2016 were higher than in 2015.

Hamilton said that generous Calgarians provided the volunteer help to serve the meals as well as fulfilling the “wishlist” of 700 homeless Calgarians.

Through the Calgary Christmas WishList, work boots, bus tickets and warm winter clothing, among other gifts, were provided by businesses and individuals.

Businesswoman and Dragon’s Den personality Arlene Dickinson sponsored 50 people’s wishes, while Gareth Lukes, owner of Lukes Drug Mart, sponsored 49 people’s wishes. Former Calgary Drop-In Centre client, veteran and quadriplegic Allan Cook donated $500, sponsoring the last 10 people on the wish list.

Hamilton says the centre was able to serve “incredible food” because of Albert Balm, who sponsored the Christmas breakfast and supper and New Year’s Eve supper, as well as Siew Gan and Lillian Li who provided Christmas lunch.

While the slow economy has made more rental properties more affordable in Calgary, Hamilton says there is still a large number of working poor.

Hamilton said he is optimistic that 2017 will see a resurgence in Calgary’s economy and more of the centre’s clients will be able to find work.  

In Edmonton, the Bissell Centre, served 200 less meals on New Year’s Day than the previous year.

Darren Brennan, spokesperson for the centre, said another meal served earlier in the day by another inner city organization saw Bissell’s numbers drop from 985 in 2015 to 776 meals.

The meal was open to the homeless, as well as those living in poverty and struggling financially.

The loss of past sponsors Northlands and Palace Banquets, due to economic hardships, left Bissell scrambling for new sponsorship.

When the call went out in mid-November, Donna’s Eatery and Catering, Collin Bruce Mortgage Team, and Alberta Turkey Producers came through to partner.

“We had to put our biggest meal of the year on in a very short period of time. That was the biggest challenge in terms of getting the food cooked, prepped and transported,” he said.

Dozens of staff and 120 volunteers worked together to serve the meal.

“We are seeing more people coming to our drop-in centre this year compared to last year so the amount of meals we’re serving on a daily basis is slowly increasing,” he said. Brennan noted that people will tie in employment services offered at the centre with a free meal. As well, there are more new Canadians getting support from the variety of Bissell Centre programs.