Monday's feast at United Gospel Mission in the Downtown Eastside will be much the same as other Thanksgiving dinners across the city. Friends, families and neighbours will break bread together, gobble down turkey and express gratitude for whatever good things are in their lives.
The difference at UGM is a matter of scale.
A total of 170 turkeys will be served at the free, daylong community dinner at both UGM's new home at 601 East Hastings St. and another location in New Westminster, along with 1,500 pounds of mashed potatoes, 900 pounds of vegetables, 900 pounds of stuffing, 80 gallons of gravy and 260 litres of cranberry sauce. For dessert, they'll slice up 800 pumpkin pies and top portions with generous scoops from 400 litres of ice cream.
Keela Keeping, UGM's spokesperson, said she and a small army of roughly 200 volunteers are expecting to feed 3,000 people for this year's dinner, roughly the same number who attended last year in the Thanksgiving debut of the 72-year-old non-profit organization's $29-million new home. She said if there is one thing she is thankful for this year, it's the new kitchen.
"It's just so much better now and we have these massive vats that can cook huge quantities of veggies and gravy and what have you," Keeping said.
The kitchen is a big part of the 70,000-square-foot building that opened in April 2011. The complex provides 72 shelter beds, 37 affordable housing units and 64 beds for a live-in drug and alcohol recovery program, double the numbers being treated in their old facility. "We basically built on top of our old parking lot," said Keeping. "We moved 13 feet over and six storeys up and we were able to double or triple a lot of our programs. We doubled our drug and alcohol recovery program, and of course we have a bigger kitchen and a bigger dining room. Just a lot more space is available and it is really great."
The new kitchen can handle up to 335,000 meals a year compared to the 240,000 the charity could previously cook up, but Thanksgiving is by far its biggest day.
"I think they have it down to a science now where different days are working on different things. We have about six volunteers per meal and so they will be assigned to work on different things. People are helping us serve food, clear tables, with entertainment, with a whole host of things."
Carrie Billy, a single mother and self-described struggling artist who was outside enjoying the sun when the Courier stopped by, said she is pleased to see how the annual event has grown. "People might think that a lot of people around here don't have a lot to be thankful for, but I can tell you the community is one thing that means a lot," she said. "I'm not coming here for food as much any more myself but I definitely wouldn't want to miss Thanksgiving here. It's not just the food, it's the people."
Keeping said that while there are enough volunteers for the day itself, UGM is always looking for extra hands and/or donations.
"Thanksgiving is definitely the one people tend to think of, but we need volunteers 365 days a year. If we can't use them that day, we can definitely use them in the future."
The doors open at 10 a.m. and food is expected to last until 4 p.m. For more information, visit ugm.ca.