By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The East York Seniors Christmas Dinner is back on Sunday, Dec. 25 for its 40th year. The initiative will once again be hosted by Toronto-Danforth Councillor Paula Fletcher and Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford. Also attending the event will be East York’s 2022 Agnes Macphail award recipient Kam Babulal and Mayor John Tory.
This year, more than 400 dinners will be delivered from the East York Community Centre to the participating senior residents by volunteers.
Although there is no in-person gathering, Fletcher believes that it is still vital to keep the tradition of the East York Seniors Christmas Dinner going for the local residents who have already registered in advance to take part.
“We have great donors that give money in order to make sure seniors, on a very important day of the year, have a nice hot meal and don’t feel forgotten,” said Fletcher. “Many of them are alone and this is a very special moment. So we like to make it special and keep it special.”
The annual Christmas dinner was started by former Borough of East York Mayor Dave Johnson to help alleviate some of the feelings of loneliness felt by many seniors during the holiday season.
Through the years, the dinner’s importance has not been forgotten by volunteers who now dedicate their time to ensuring no senior feels alone on Christmas Day.
“The seniors anticipate something great happening during their day,” said Fletcher. “It is a tough time of the year if you’re by yourself.”
Since the tradition began, seniors come together on Christmas Day to share in the celebration and enjoy each other’s company during a time in which they might otherwise feel isolated. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, there has been no in-person gathering for this event since 2020.
Babulal said that the transition to a delivery system was a blessing in disguise.
“When we had it in person, it was only serving 240 people,” said Babulal. “But now we are delivering 425 dinners.”
Although the local councillors co-host the event – dealing with the logistics such as sending out the invitations and raising the necessary funds – Babulal remains at the heart of the celebrations as she takes charge of preparing the meals for her 25th year in a row.
Putting together 425 meals for this year’s dinner didn’t come without its challenges though.
Babulal told Beach Metro Community News that the caterer got sick and could no longer supply the meals. To make matters worse, she “didn’t have anybody to do a turkey meal because it was too short notice”.
Luckily, Swiss Chalet at Birchmount Road and Lawrence Avenue, after listening to Babulal explain her situation, offered their assistance in providing this year’s meals for the seniors.
Other organizations supplying products are Loblaws which will be providing all the drinks, No Frills is offering 10 cases of apple pie, Sobeys is providing clementines, and The Big Carrot Community Market is supplying bags for the goods.
“I cannot thank these people enough,” said Babulal. “There are no words to thank them.”
Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.