The tall Christmas tree at the drop-in centre in the Kettle Friendship Society’s office on Venables Street is brightly decorated with oversized candy canes, glittering decorations and twinkling lights.
The tree was decorated not only to brighten the mental health drop-in centre’s main gathering room, but also in anticipation of the society’s Christmas lunch on Dec. 25.
The society is one of the few service agencies in the city that offers a Christmas meal on Christmas Day, which means a lot to the members, manager Chris Keough told the Courier. He noted his family has no problem with him working the holiday.
“Coming in on Christmas Day is the best day of the year. So many other places are closed, it’s nice they can come somewhere they consider their home,” said Keough, wiping at his eyes. “Sorry, I don’t usually get emotional, but you know how you hear someone talk about their second home? That’s not the case here. This is their home.”
Keough is bringing three family members in Christmas Day to help serve the lunch, which will include turkey, ham and all the trimmings. The society typically feeds about 70 members each day, but expects 150 Dec. 25.
“We put out tablecloths and candles to give them the Christmas they should have,” said Keough. “It’s so cozy in here.”
Sue Rostill has been a member of the mental health drop-in centre for two years and plans to attend the lunch. Rostill said after her mother died a couple of years ago, no one from her extended family stayed in contact.
“I came here last year on the worst day of my life. I was crying all day so I came here to make myself feel better,” said Rostill, who lives just blocks away. “And it worked. Only I got overloaded on turkey.”
Bill Pope also intends to enjoy the Christmas lunch. Pope was a successful graphic designer and photographer living in the Ottawa area until he began to suffer from depression more than two decades ago.
“After I got sick, my life changed,” said Pope, who moved to Vancouver in 2000. “It was someone from the mental health community who introduced me to the [society.]”
Pope has found a home at the drop-in centre, where he now runs the art program and offers classes Wednesday afternoons as a volunteer. He added the Christmas luncheon is a highlight of the year.
“It’s great and it means a lot to be a member of this community,” said Pope. “We’re like a family and the people here have a way of making you feel at home. Even Chris. This is not a normal job, but he’s nice to everyone.”
Member Kelley Montgomery won’t be attending the lunch this year, but knows how important it is to his friends who attend the centre.
“It’s big time,” said Montgomery. “They treat you like family and it has an amazing atmosphere.”
Keough said in the past, turkeys for the lunch were donated by the employees of a nearby company, but when it was recently sold that tradition ended. This year that meant paying for 26 turkeys out of the society’s budget. The society is collecting donations that can be given out as a present during the lunch. The wish list is a simple one — socks, new underwear, hats, gloves, ladies sweaters, $5 McDonald gift cards, transit tickets and toiletries. For more information, visit thekettle.ca.