Christmas looks a little different this year at the Shepherds of Good Hope

·2 min read

Christmas is normally a time for gathering with family and friends, but with the pandemic still raging and a lockdown imminent in Ontario, for many people this holiday season is feeling different.

For people who are homeless, there are added challenges.

"[The pandemic] has taken an already isolating situation and made it that much more isolating for the people that we support," said Caroline Cox, senior manager of community and volunteer services at the Shepherds of Good Hope in Ottawa.

The holiday season is already hard for the people who rely on its services, said Cox.

"Many are estranged from their families. They're at the lowest point in time in their lives."

Hallie Cotnam/CBC
Hallie Cotnam/CBC

Suzanne Kobe, 71, has been living at the shelter since June after she was evicted from her home.

Normally, she would spend time with her family during the holidays, but COVID-19 means she's spending this Christmas at the shelter.

"That's the hardship about the coronavirus. I don't get to see my three grandchildren," she said, her voice cracking. "But nevertheless, I have a new family here. People are so, so wonderful, so attentive and so caring."

The shelter has gone above and beyond to make the season bright, including making a tourtière the Francophone woman said, that surpassed her expectations.

"I'm telling you, it was impressive. The crust was delicious," she said. "They do everything to inspire us, to make us happy and to make it a good day, every day."

Hallie Cotnam/CBC
Hallie Cotnam/CBC

Offering that little bit of inspiration to the residents and clients is important to Dave Miller, a frontline worker at the Shepherds of Good Hope.

"For a lot of people, Christmas is not a very positive time of year," he said, so his job is both to offer them services and compassion.

"We humanize people. So, I offer people to let them know, that yes, I hear you, we see you, we care, we care for you and we would like to offer you what we can."

Big turkey dinner

Providing meals safely is one of the biggest challenges for the shelter, especially after the soup kitchen had to move indoors once the temperature outside dropped.

They now serve more meals to smaller groups, which means they're working throughout much of the day to provide food but with fewer volunteers — there was an 80 per cent decrease at the start of the pandemic. The shelter has had to rely on already prepared food from restaurants and hotels.

One tradition the Shepherds of Good Hope will be continuing this year is its big turkey and ham holiday dinner, but there will be fewer people eating at any given time and they won't be able to stay inside for long.

The shelter will also be handing out more than 500 gift bags that include: gloves, a hat, mask, toothpaste, deodorant and chocolate for residents and people taking part in its various programs.

Hallie Cotnam/CBC
Hallie Cotnam/CBC