Gary Baker and Stephanie Hermiston were two of dozens who received a hot turkey dinner at Baillie Avenue, from the Gospel Mission, Saturday night (Dec. 19). They said the meal was very much appreciated. Baker and Hermiston are currently experiencing homelessness in Kelowna. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

Gary Baker and Stephanie Hermiston were two of dozens who received a hot turkey dinner at Baillie Avenue, from the Gospel Mission, Saturday night (Dec. 19). They said the meal was very much appreciated. Baker and Hermiston are currently experiencing homelessness in Kelowna. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

Christmas meals for Kelowna’s less fortunate a ‘silver lining’ amid difficult time of year

Gospel Mission staff took to the streets to feed approx. 500 on Dec. 19.

By the end of the night they will have fed 500, and for those that don’t have much, a warm meal lovingly prepared by a stranger can go a long way.

On Saturday, Kelowna’s Gospel Mission took to the road to distribute warm turkey dinners to those in need. One of their first stops was a gravel parking lot on Baillie Avenue, where dozens of people eagerly accepted their gift.

That night, they distributed about 400 meals to those on the streets. Some of their meals were also delivered to other shelters and supportive housing units around town.

Each meal included turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, topped off with a slice of pie.

On Baillie Avenue, a line of people waiting for meals formed. Some put their meal into a backpack and walked or rode off, while others immediately started eating.

Story continues below.

Gospel Mission volunteers hand out meals on Baillie Avenue in Kelowna, Saturday night (Dec. 19). (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

Gospel Mission volunteers hand out meals on Baillie Avenue in Kelowna, Saturday night (Dec. 19). (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

Dozens wait in line for meals being handed out by the Kelowna Gospel Mission, on Baillie Avenue. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

Dozens wait in line for meals being handed out by the Kelowna Gospel Mission, on Baillie Avenue. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

With arms linked, Gary Baker and Stephanie Hermiston quietly stood in line together. After receiving their meal they thanked the volunteers, wished them a Merry Christmas and walked back to their tent which was situated close by.

Baker finished his meal quickly. Hermiston savoured it. Both agreed it meant a lot.

“It’s survival,” said Baker.

“He said it – I was hungry, I know it meant a lot to me right now,” added Hermiston.

After finishing their meal they leaned against each other in the cold and chatted about what time they were going to be woken up in the morning, and where they would go next.

Asked how they were feeling with Christmas just around the corner, they looked at each other and smiled. Baker said he’s happy to have a new partner. Stephanie agreed but admitted the holidays can be depressing. She wished she was with her kids.

Story continues below.

Stephanie Hermiston enjoys her turkey dinner inside her tent. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

Stephanie Hermiston enjoys her turkey dinner inside her tent. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

Stephanie Hermiston savours her turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

Stephanie Hermiston savours her turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

Back at the Gospel Mission shelter on Leon Avenue, about 60 sat down together to eat. At the 40-bed winter shelter on Doyle Avenue, they did the same.

For some, it’s a glimmer of happiness during a dreary and depressing season.

“Nobody wants to spend Christmas at a shelter; not if they can help it. So if you’re here at Christmas, it’s probably not because you’re having the best season of your life,” said Carmen Rempel, Gospel Mission executive director.

Story continues below.

Gospel Mission executive director, Carmen Rempel, pictured outside the shelter Dec. 19. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

Gospel Mission executive director, Carmen Rempel, pictured outside the shelter Dec. 19. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

Rempel said they do everything they can to honour their residents, and celebrate Christmas with them tactfully, to prevent emotional hurt.

“I was just in there now talking to one who was so sad. And I asked him why. Because he’s usually a very ‘up’ guy … he looks at me and says, ‘Carmen, it’s just this time of year. It’s just the season. It’s supposed to be happy and it’s supposed to be merry and bright, but it’s not.’

“So the reason we do this is so that we have a little bit of merry and bright.”

That evening, the Gospel Mission residents felt a sense of family.

“It’s an opportunity for people who are really down and low, to have some normalcy and comradery,” said Sonja Menyes, manager of volunteers at the Gospel Mission.

Story continues below.

Sonja Menyes, Manager of Volunteers and the Gospel Mission, stands in the shelter doorway on Dec. 19. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

Sonja Menyes, Manager of Volunteers and the Gospel Mission, stands in the shelter doorway on Dec. 19. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

Due to COVID-19, shelters have not been able to welcome guests. While volunteers would normally come in to help prepare the meal and decorate the shelters, this year that duty fell on the residents.

However, that was welcomed, as the opportunity to help brought a sense of dignity.

“They have become a little family. They support one another, and they’re all helping out … this is their Christmas. Not even something they’re just receiving via charity. This is their celebration,” said Rempel.

In a place mat on a table, a message from a donor reads, ‘Love is all you need.’

Story continues below.

A place mat on a table inside the Gospel Mission has a message from a donor, which reads, ‘Love is all you need’. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

A place mat on a table inside the Gospel Mission has a message from a donor, which reads, ‘Love is all you need’. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)

This year has undoubtedly resulted in far more challenges for many, but for individuals at the Gospel Mission, there’s an upside. Due to the lower numbers of people coming and going, this group of 60 on Leon Avenue has coalesced into ‘something quite special.’

“We see more and more guys who have become stable. There’s guys who would have been considered a year ago to be absolutely unhouseable, because their mental health was at such a state that made it really impossible to have any sort of stability,” said Rempel.

A calm and peace has come over the mission, allowing many to heal and move forward in their recovery journey.

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: phil.mclachlan@kelownacapnews.com


 

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