By TOM GODFREY
Honest Ed Mirvish may be long gone, but his free turkeys and other goodies have helped thousands of needy Toronto residents for the last 27 years.
The annual Christmas free bird giveaway may be drawing to an end, but that didn’t prevent a lineup that last week again stretched around the iconic, well-lit Bathurst and Bloor St. W. shopping emporium we all know and love.
Torontonians are famously generous at Christmas time and we will have to see if someone else steps into Ed’s, and now son David’s, shoes, to continue handing out the free turkeys, rice and trimmings the family is long known for.
In my end of the city, the poor and lonely are for the 22nd year receiving free presents and a sumptuous dinner with all the fixings thanks to a group of tireless church volunteers.
Parishioners of St. Margaret’s New Toronto, in Etobicoke, have been planning the annual Christmas dinner for months that will serve about 250 residents who are in need.
Many area businesses and groups have donated cash, presents or food to make the dinner a success. It also takes dozens of volunteers who have been giving graciously of their time.
The free “Among Friends” dinner will take place at 12 noon on Christmas Day at St. Margaret’s, on Sixth St., that has been serving the community for more than 100 years.
It is a time for many families, rich and poor, to get together and break bread. This year there will be a toy room with goodies for the 25 children expected.
More than 200 lbs. of turkey and a mountain of fixings will be cooked and served by about 30 volunteers on Christmas Day. Attendees will also receive a takeout bag containing food for later.
For longtime residents Cara and Robert Wigle, the dinner has been a family affair. Their son Robert volunteers in the kitchen to ensure all the dishes are ready on time.
“For many of the people, this is the only good meal they have had for a week, or a month,” said Cara. “There are a lot of people now who cannot afford to have meat every day.”
The Wigles say the dinner is an Etobicoke tradition and all the effort by many people is well worth it.
Many of the volunteers have been attending the church for years and ensure all the seniors, singles and families leave with a big smile and a lovely present.
“A lot of people are lonely and come out for the company and the food,” Cara admits. “We never thought we would have this many people coming for dinner more than 20 years later.”
The program was founded in 1992 by parishioner Alan Oliver to help others in the community.
“It just grew from there,” said Cara. “It’s all done yearly with volunteers and donations from members of the community who want to help others.”
Cara says the volunteers work in shifts with some preparing the meals, while others serve and then there’s the clean-up crew.
It is a moving experience to help those whose loved ones have either forgotten about them; or who have challenges and are brought in by volunteers from the streets, if only for an hour to eat.
Christmas is the best time of the year for many; but for some it can also be the worst.
The church offers a unique Out of the Cold program on Monday where people can come in and obtain a free meal and shelter on those freezing nights.
The program has been a great success and similar ones have been launched by other agencies to help the homeless on other nights.
“We are only one church but we try to help as many people as we can in the community,” said Cara. “We help bring out a smile on their faces even though it’s only for a short time.”
And it is fitting on this day that we thank the Mirvish and Wigles families, along with many others we never hear of who donate their time and efforts at their own expense to help bring smiles, or hope, to others on Christmas Day.
Merry Christmas to all our readers and friends.