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Christmas came early for a group of Penticton and area residents.
Staff and volunteers at Penticton’s Unity House – home to the Canadian Mental Health Association’s South Okanagan/Similkameen Branch – have been busy preparing for Christmas during a pandemic.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has not allowed Unity House to host its annual Christmas dinner in 2020 – an event which is routinely the highlight of the year.
“People are so happy when we have our Christmas party. The mood is just so bright and festive. People dress up. We have Santa here with his elf. We have a photo booth, and they’re really happy to receive a photo of themselves with Santa. There’s music. People are just in really good spirits. They’re happy to come together and share a really good Christmas dinner,” reminisced South Okanagan-Similkameen branch executive director Leah Schulting. “A lot of them don’t have family, so they don’t have a place to go for a really good Christmas meal. So this is a really important celebration for folks.
“They always got a present, or a gift card, or a pair of socks – something to show that we care about them and we’re thinking about them during this time.”
The holiday party may be off at Unity House. But there will still be a Christmas for clients.
Over four nights last week, staff and volunteers cooked and shopped and planned – and most importantly, delivered more than 160 Christmas dinners to clients in Penticton, and as far away as Summerland and Keremeos.
Those paid a visit by the Unity House elves also received Christmas presents, and, above all, smiles.
“We still wanted to do something to show the members that we care,” added Schulting. “The response has been overwhelming. The people who have delivered said the clients are so cheerful and happy to see them bring something to their door.”
While gift bags were being filled with presents, the Unity House kitchen was abuzz with preparations for a Christmas dinner.
“We’re just preparing Christmas dinner for our members. It’s a free dinner we do every year. This year because of COVID we have to split it up a little bit more,” explained chef Mike Wright. “It’s still going to be the traditional Christmas dinner – turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cauliflower cheese sauce, roasted brussel sprouts, appetizers and deserts.
“It’s rewarding. Working with everyone is awesome. That’s why I do this.”
Wright cooked 10 turkeys this through the week, and peeled a lot of potatoes.
The staff at Unity House understands just how important Christmas is to clients.
“It’s not just about Christmas dinner. It’s about outreach and making sure our clients are doing okay, especially when they are recovering from a mental crisis,” said Unity clubhouse manager Monica Belovska. “People are really happy. They know we are still open and we are here to support them. It’s not even about the dinner. It’s about the social interaction.”
To find out more on what the CMHA provides, contact the South Okanagan-Similkameen branch here.