Family and food. It’s a pairing that’s synonymous with the holidays. But for some, coming together to break bread with loved ones over the season isn’t a reality. That’s a truth Yellowknife Salvation Army knows well, and one that drives its yearly offering of food and fellowship on Christmas Day.
“For some of them, this is their family. This is their community,” said Salvation Army co-director Darlene Hardy.
On Dec. 25, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., turkey and all the fixings will be on the menu at the annual Christmas Day feast, continuing a decades-long tradition in Yellowknife.
In what has become a staple for the non-profit organization, at least 150 people are expected to attend the dinner that’s largely run by a small group of dedicated volunteers.
Josee Martin, a Yellowknifer returning from school in Edmonton, is one of them. She says by giving back on Christmas Day, she’ll be fulfilling her family’s own long-running tradition.
“Every Christmas morning we’d get up, open presents and then we’d come here and help with the dinner, with the set up, the serving and the clean up,” Martin said.
While the Salvation Army provides meals to those in need throughout the year, Martin told Yellowknifer it’s especially important to offer a helping hand and a listening ear on Christmas Day.
“It’s good everyday … but on Christmas, it’s always been a family day, a day to get together and help out,” she said.
Over the years, Martin said she’s seen all walks of life walk through the Salvation Army’s doors for a meal and companionship on the holiday.
“We’ll have … the people on the streets who come up but then we’ll also have a few families who come in if they want a really good meal, if they can’t provide it themselves,” she said.
The NWT has one of the highest rates of family and child poverty in the country, according to a recent national survey.
Paul Matwiy has been with the Salvation Army for eight years. Along with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and more, Matwiy says he’ll be serving something he’s proud of.
“When I go home at night I sleep like a baby knowing what I do ensures my community is fed,” said Matwiy.
With 60 to 70 per cent of the dinner’s servings coming from donations, Matwiy said the annual feast relies of programs like Yellowknife Food Rescue to fill the stomachs of guests every year, adding he’d like to see the initiative adopted nationally to curb “egregious” food waste.
The turkey feast follows the organization’s Thanksgiving dinner, which sees a higher attendance than the Christmas Day offering, partly because of the food hampers already distributed by the Sally Ann over the holidays, said Matwiy.
Meanwhile, for residents looking to gather with community members the night before the Dec. 25 dinner, Yellowknife’s Holy Trinity Church will be offering coffee and snacks between Christmas Eve services, from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.