Hundreds of community members gathered at Cool Aid’s downtown Victoria community centre on Wednesday for a special holiday meal.
About 500 pounds of turkey alongside all of the traditional Christmas sides were prepared in Cool Aid kitchens for community members to enjoy and share with friends and family.
It was thanks to Sysco Foods, individual donors and many volunteers that this meal was possible.
“We couldn’t do this without the generosity of the community,” said Alan Rycroft, community relations manager with Cool Aid.
The holiday dinner is an annual event that used to be solely for Cool Aid tenants but has since been opened up to others, with about 300 individuals partaking in the dinner.
Rycroft said more people are seen indoors during the holidays due to the cold, wet weather. That means more people might be using Cool Aid’s shelter programs as well. The community centre, for example, converts into a night time shelter to accommodate extra people.
A warm meal that they can enjoy with community members can make all the difference at this time of year, according to Rycroft.
Lori Angelini, manager of philanthropy with Cool Aid, said donations from the community increase around the holidays because people recognize there is greater need for things like good food and holiday cheer.
“It’s overwhelming,” Angelini said.
With 19 locations, Cool Aid is able to bring Christmas dinners to each of the organization’s buildings thanks to generous donations.
“I think because a lot of our clients are very low income and either living in a bachelor or staying in a shelter, there aren’t many opportunities for a community gathering like this,” Angelini said. “So we put a call out so they can enjoy a meal with their family and friends.”
Paul Stewart is a Red Seal chef who went from working in restaurants to working for Cool Aid. He was behind Thursday’s Christmas dinner and has been with the organization for almost three years. He also helps cook thousands of meals a week that are served by Cool Aid at its various locations.
“I typically came up through restaurants and catering and I always sort of felt like something was missing…you’re just basically cooking for people with a lot of money essentially,” Stewart said. “The rewards to me are greater now…this matters more to me. This has more of a human connection. They’re genuinely happy…this might be the only time they have a hot meal today.”
Cool Aid serves 980 meals every day and over 350,000 per year out of two commercial kitchens. About 12,000 clients are served by Cool Aid each year in the region.
In the coming years, the organization plans to increase local food purchases for meals, expand its commercial kitchen and add food-related social enterprises for some of its tenants.