By Charlie Senack
A generous donation from the Carleton Tavern will help feed members of the community who are struggling this winter.
For over 20 years, the Carleton Tavern has been feeding Christmas meals to those in the community who need support over the holiday season.
In pre-pandemic times, around 1,000 meals would be distributed during the Christmas season. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the long-standing tradition was in jeopardy.
Cheryl Parrott, a member of the Hintonburg Economic Development Committee, which helps the Carleton run its Christmas meal program, said despite the times, they still strive to serve.
“When the pandemic hit and we knew it was going to be only takeout/delivery, we knew it was going to be less,” Parrott added. “The first year of COVID in 2020, we did about 330 meals total, and in 2021, at Christmas, it was 400.”
The Hintonburg Economic Development Committee helps manage volunteers and any donations. The food is cooked by the Carleton Tavern and, pre-pandemic, the Christmas meal was also held in the restaurant.
But, because of capacity limits and other challenges COVID-19 brought, the Carleton Tavern reached out to Parkdale United Church to see if they could use their facilities.
Parkdale United is well equipped for meal distribution: from the first Saturday after Remembrance Day until the end of March, they run an “In From The Cold” program, which offers a warm meal and support to those who need it.
This year, due to an outpouring of support from the community, funds were left over from the Christmas meal which they wanted to put towards a good cause in the community.
“We thought, rather than keep the leftover funds for next year, let’s see that money used now for those who are helping people with food,” said Parrot. “Parkdale United Church has been doing their In From The Cold program for about 20 years now, so they were the logical place because they are continuing the work of helping people.”
In mid-February, the Carleton Tavern was able to present Parkdale’s In From The Cold program with a cheque for $1,000, more than the program’s team initially expected.
In From The Cold
When Rev. Anthony Bailey first started at Parkdale United Church about 20 years ago, he canvassed the community to see what support was needed. Through previous ministries in Jamaica and other parts of the world, Bailey has always strived to be a changemaker.
“Any place I’ve serviced, I was always concerned about the neighbourhood in which the church is found and what is going on,” he said. “I spent time walking around the neighbourhood and talking to people and trying to get a sense of what was happening. There were a number of rooming houses, a number of people who were experiencing poverty, and I thought we could do something as a church to help the community.”
That’s how In From The Cold was born. When it started in 2002, around 35 guests benefited from a warm meal. Now, two decades later, that number has grown to anywhere from 125-150 meals handed out every Saturday during the winter.
Around 90 volunteers donate their time weekly to prepare, cook, and purchase the food.
Those who visit are also given a sandwich and fruit for the next day—along with a sense of connection.
“One of the things we wanted to do from the very beginning is acknowledge the dignity of those who would be coming, those who are experiencing poverty and so forth, with quality food,” said Bailey. “It is a four-course meal that is provided and before COVID, we had music, art, literacy, all happening in our lower hall. Because of the pandemic we have needed to pivot to takeout meals, but we hope to get back to normal for next year.”
The funds donated will go towards purchasing food, which is becoming more costly.
A Canada Food Price Report says grocery bills this year are expected to rise anywhere from five to seven per cent—the highest increase reported in 12 years. Dairy products are supposed to see the highest jump of anywhere from six to eight per cent. Bakery products and vegetables are supposed to climb five to seven per cent, and fruit prices are expected to jump three to five per cent.
It’s something the community feels at the cash register, and it can make it more difficult for food services to stretch their funds.
Susan Mailer, who purchases food for Parkdale’s In From The Cold initiative, says they have needed to rely on sales.
“I have [to] drive to make sure that our money goes to the best use possible,” she said. “So if I have to go to four different Shoppers Drug Marts to get the limit of four butters on sale I will do that because it does make a difference and adds up.”
Mailer, who became involved with the program 15 years ago, said she’s charmed up various meat department managers for deals, and some food is donated from the Parkdale Food Centre.
Last week, they received 50 pounds of potatoes which were split up over two meals.
She said the donation from the Carleton Tavern will go a long way to ensure nobody goes without a warm meal. It’s even more appreciated at a time when supply chain issues can make it difficult to purchase in large quantities.
“It’s so huge. It takes the pressure off. It was such an amazing surprise when we found out,” said Mailer. “Things are getting harder to find. Even big stores like the Westboro Superstore are having a hard time getting a lot of their supplies in. One day, I walked in and their entire fresh fruit aisle was empty. Each place doesn’t have a large enough volume for me to source a meal for 100 people, so it means we might need to go to different stores and possibly pay more.”