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Good Shepherd volunteers prepare to serve 1,600 meals on Boxing Day

Jack Hogarth will do whatever needs to be done at Good Shepherd to help prepare for its massive Boxing Day feast, but his specialty is potatoes. He’s been volunteering for five years. Like many volunteers, he was once in need of the Shepherd’s services.

“It’s like a lifeline,” he said. “They helped me out so I don’t mind paying it back.”

Hogarth feeds the potatoes through a machine that strips the skin off. He gingerly checks each one for blemishes and cuts them off where needed, putting the peeled potatoes in a giant bucket. The centre will prepare hundreds of kilograms of potatoes to complement 360 kilograms of roast beef, 250 pies, 110 dozen dinner rolls and mixed vegetables.

The annual Boxing Day meal at the Good Shepherd on Queen St. E. near Parliament St. is expected to attract 1,600 diners this year, many who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a dinner around the holidays. The centre provides meals year-round, as well as shelter and support services. But holidays are special.

For Joseph Khoob, the holiday dinner has come to represent much more than food — it’s a chance to see friends and enjoy a nice time with table-side service from volunteers. Khoob has been homeless for more than a year, struggling with depression.

“Everywhere I go, from doctors to the coffee shop . . . they all say don’t miss the Boxing Day meal,” said Khoob, who is staying at the centre. “Normally there are people I know — the food is very good and the service is very good.”

It takes weeks to prepare dinner for 1,600 people. Volunteer chefs toil in the kitchen, cooking and slicing beef, peeling potatoes and sorting donations.

“This kitchen has just been roaring non-stop,” Tish Kelly, a Good Shepherd employee, said over the din of volunteers working.

The doors will open at noon Wednesday and more than 80 volunteers will dole out food along with gifts for everyone. Each guest gets an apple, orange and some socks and gloves. There are special bags for women and children.

The centre has a full slate of volunteers committed to both preparation and the actual meal day, including David Willett, his wife, kids and nieces and nephews. Rather than give them all presents, Willett decided to donate money to charity in their names and take the whole family to Good Shepherd to volunteer.

“Instead, let them all be mindful,” Willett said as he and his family sorted and packed donations.

thestar.com – News