It was Christmas 1991, and in a homeless shelter a woman staff member was preparing for the holiday. She was trying to find ways to make Christmas festive for the 67 men who lived there. Hughie, Horace, Glen, John, Jimmy and the others were mostly older men and alcoholics. They were often grumpy at this time of year. Christmas brought back many memories — often involving children and families.
There was little money, but a tree (a real tree) had been donated and it was placed in the dining room and decorated. Church groups had knit mittens, hats and scarves and dropped them off weeks before. Some Good Samaritan had donated smokes (a welcome gift at that time). A small nativity set had been purchased, and the woman knew enough to purchase extra figurines of baby Jesus because the men liked to put Jesus in their pocket, for comfort.
A few days before Christmas, a couple of volunteers came in and wrapped the presents – there were always socks and long underwear in the packages. The donated turkeys were thawed, local farmers and merchants had donated vegetables, and homemade desserts appeared for the meal.
On Christmas morning, the woman came in for a couple of hours. She helped serve breakfast and wished everyone a “Merry Christmas”. The men were looking forward to the Christmas meal and Bill, the regular volunteer, was cheerful and helped to give out presents. Christmas had come to the shelter, bringing with it joy and hope for a better day.
That woman was me and it was my first Christmas at The Ottawa Mission — the beginning of my long journey with the homeless. I would like to thank all of you for the wonderful support and compassion you continue to share with me and with this ministry.
May you have a blessed Christmas! (And who knew that Jesus could live in your pocket?)
Executive Director, The Ottawa Mission