Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Andrew Tunny spent Wednesday morning in the company of 14 large turkeys.
In the kitchen at the Union Gospel Mission on Princess Street, Tunny, 51, was deboning the birds and preparing them for the oven, knowing that in three days time, the turkeys would be gobbled up by hungry souls during the mission’s annual Thanksgiving meal.
"For me, it’s just another day at the office, so to speak," he said of Thanksgiving. "We do what we do for the Lord Jesus Christ, and we serve whatever we serve as if we were serving our king."
In years past, the mission could serve three or four groups of 126 people that meal fit for their king, but this year, COVID-19 restrictions mean substantially fewer people at one time, said Martin Chidwick, the mission’s development manager.
Although the pandemic means the chairs will be spread out and masks worn, Chidwick said the holiday meal was never off the table.
"People need each other, and they need fellowship," he said. "Pandemic or no pandemic, people need to eat."
And pandemic or no pandemic, community organizations across the city are preparing their spreads for what normally is one of their busiest days of the year, which has an added layer of meaning in 2020.
The Salvation Army location at 324 Logan Ave., is expecting to serve 500 take-away turkey dinners Thursday. All donations given to Winnipeg Harvest’s 35th-annual Thanksgiving Drive are being doubled thanks to an anonymous benefactor. Siloam Mission’s meal will look different, with only those staying at the downtown shelter eating in the dining room and the rest getting their turkey dinners to go.
For its 35th anniversary this year, Winnipeg Harvest’s Thanksgiving campaign is asking people to give 35 hours of volunteer time, 35 tins for donation bins, or multiples of $35; each financial donation will be doubled by an anonymous donor. On Wednesday, the organization received more than 1,000 pounds of turkey donated by Save-On-Foods and radio station QX104 to be distributed to people across the province; and more is on the way, CEO Keren Taylor-Hughes said.
At Agape Table on Furby Street, executive director Jim Steep is expecting to see at least 500 people lined up outside for a bagged Thanksgiving feast Monday morning.
Usually, the meal is an opportunity to gather indoors, with politicians and local power brokers holding the tongs and doling out the mashed potatoes. But since March, the small grassroots kitchen has been operating a takeaway service, with bagged meals being handed out.
Since the pandemic began, these community organizations have each faced a conundrum: the community need has arguably never been greater, but the realities of COVID-19 have made it more difficult to address.
At Agape, before the pandemic, a busy day was considered one with 275 guests. Not so these days.
"Rarely has there been a day with fewer than 500 meals," said Steep. "A few weeks ago, we did 660."
Between April and July 2019, Agape Table served 23,000 guests. Over the same stretch this year, the organization served 37,000 — a 61 per cent increase. So Steep expects this year’s event to be considerably larger than ever before, albeit, without the camaraderie of sitting around a table.
"Hopefully, we can get back to that soon," he said.
But on Monday, guests will take their turkey sandwiches, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, pie and candy to go, handed out by a cast of volunteers that make the whole operation run smoothly.
“I feel sorry, and certainly the loss of the up–close–and–personal contact we’re used to, but I know our guests are very grateful.” – Bunty Anderson
One of them is Bunty Anderson, a retired social worker who spent Wednesday morning stuffing bags and chopping vegetables for the soup the kitchen serves on a daily basis. She expects this year’s feast to attract a huge crowd.
Anderson said she’s disappointed the meal can’t be run in the traditional sense, but said it’s important it’s happening at all.
"I feel sorry, and certainly the loss of the up-close-and-personal contact we’re used to, but I know our guests are very grateful," she said. "Part of the purpose of Thanksgiving is to pause and be thankful, and I’m very glad we are able to contribute. My God, there is so much to be thankful for."
Tunny shared the sentiment.
"There is a lot of fear out there, but I think we can bring a little peace and make people feel a little bit better," he said. "We bring people to the Lord through our meals."
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.
Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.