This is the third Christmas I have spent on my own– without the company of family or friends. The grim reaper has been pruning my family tree with a vengeance leaving me effectively an orphan. However, this year I decided that did not mean I had to spend Christmas day all alone. Every week I try and do something I have never done before and this week it was participating in a communal meal with a hundred souls at St. John's Gathering Place established by the Presentation and Mercy orders of Catholic nuns. There is a free meal of turkey with all the trimmings, live music, presents and carol singing. But perhaps most valuable of all was companionship.
I wasn't sure how to dress for this occasion, so I opted for middle of the road, which meant a grey dress and a bolero jacket. I left my vintage fur coat at home and went with a cloth coat. To be honest, I was dressed entirely in thrift store wardrobe. But when I crossed the threshold of The Gathering Place they took one look at me and to my surprise slapped a volunteer sticker on me and told me I could join the society matron cluster around the coffee pots. I was quite literally labeled as a volunteer when instead I thought of myself as being much closer to some of the "guests" who were being served. I decided to just go with the flow.
As it turns out there was a surplus of volunteer ladies hovering and talking with each other. I sought out someone in authority and said, "What do you need?" The answer couldn't have been better as far as I was concerned. The grey haired nun said to me, "We need someone to mingle and talk with our guests". In short order, I was chatting about Canadian Christmas traditions with a table of Sudanese students, about the local symphony with a group of seniors, traditional Aboriginal medicine with another crowd, and on and on. Everyone welcomed my attention and were eager to chat. It was clear they felt comfortable in this environment. I was the new girl on the "block". Eventually, someone lassoed me with their arms and sat me down with the words, "Now, you eat with us!" It was a whale of a good time.
The Gathering Place is a community service centre where people can avail themselves of medical services, a hot meal, various social events and companionship. It is the "safe place" for many in my hometown who find them disadvantaged through circumstance.
This is how the Gathering Place describes their mission:
The Gathering Place is a service centre committed to building community, promoting equality and providing nourishment. It exists to meet the needs of people whom society has failed.
The programs and services of the Gathering Place are offered primarily to people who are homeless or live in less than desirable housing conditions, people who are often unemployed and to people who do not have adequate social supports at this time in their lives.