Ottawa Mission holds its annual Christmas event



tracey Tong/Metro Ottawa


Volunteer James McKinnon-Burrows serves Ottawa Mission resident Collin Otak at the shelter’s community Christmas dinner yesterday. The mission served 2,000 people despite the snowstorm.

Tourtiere and turkey with all the trimmings helps, but for many it was the offer of fellowship that drew them out through a snowstorm yesterday to join the Ottawa Mission’s annual Christmas dinner.

“I think the clients came out because they want to be together for Christmas, and the volunteers came out because they realize how important it is not to be alone at Christmas,” said Ottawa Mission Rev. Laird Eddy.

“The last thing we want is for someone to be alone at Christmas.”

More than 120 volunteers served 2,000 people at the annual dinner that is funded entirely by the community.

Gatineau resident Suzanne Simond decided to volunteer after serving for the first time during the shelter’s Thanksgiving dinner.

“On the way here, I saw so many people outside,” said Simond. “You just count your blessings.”

It’s always an appreciative crowd, said Ottawa Police Staff Sgt. Paul Johnston, who has volunteered at every community dinner for three years. “Sometimes the homeless get a bad rap and this gives us a chance to interact with them on a personal level instead of on a business level.”

Christmas is a hard time for homeless people and the marginally housed, said Diane Morrison, executive director of the Ottawa Mission. “They’ve gone through a lot of losses and one of those losses is family relationships.”

It’s nice to share a meal with friends, said Collin Otak, a resident at the Ottawa Mission since August.

Margo Chartier doesn’t frequent the mission, but said she came for the camaraderie she’s missed since her husband Jacques died in the fall.

“This is my first Christmas without my husband,” she said. “It’s a bad time for me. It helps to be around people.”

Serving at the event gives people a dose of reality, said Ottawa Police Chief Vern White.

“I believe anyone can end up on the same path,” said White. “It could be anyone’s kid, anyone’s brother.”