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Around Town: Giving thanks at Our Place

Turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie weren’t the only things on the menu at Our Place on Thursday.

Turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie weren’t the only things on the menu at Our Place on Thursday.

So was social justice, a hot topic among local politicians when they weren’t talking turkey while serving Thanksgiving meals to Victoria’s less fortunate with other community volunteers and staff.

“Social justice is very important to me, making sure we have a city that doesn’t leave anyone behind,” said Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin, joined by city councillors Pam Madoff, Ben Isitt, Chris Coleman, Shellie Gudgeon, Marianne Alto, Geoff Young, Charlayne Thornton-Joe and mayoral hopeful Lisa Helps. “It’s great to see so many people supporting that concept.”

They were among dozens of volunteers of all political stripes, includng NDP MLA Carole James, Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins.

“I’m from a big family so serving dinners is what I do,” smiled Desjardins, looking decidedly domestic scurrying about in a white apron, plates in hand. “This makes you realize how truly blessed we are.”

John Ducker, former VicPD deputy chief and chair of Our Place’s social justice committee, said he learned a valuable lesson.

“I realize I could never work in a restaurant,” said Ducker, who is running for mayor in Esquimalt. “But I feel really good being able to help people get through difficult times in their life.”

While servers from the capital region’s many municipalities might have ideological differences, politics were off the table.

“No matter who is running for mayor or councils, they’re all here to recognize some people are in less fortunate situations than ourselves,” said Fortin.

Mama Bear, 59, a prominent Our Place family member known for her warmth, smiles and hugs whose portrait hangs in the dining room expressed gratitude for the family celebration.

“I’ve been coming to this place since its grand opening, when Rev. Al [Tysick] asked me to do a speech,” she said. “A lot of homeless people out there don’t get many meals like this, so when we have this and the one here on Sunday [local businessman and philanthropist Gordie Dodd’s annual event], no one would miss it. Gordie Dodd is a very unique person, him and his wife.”

Our Place Society executive director Don Evans said he welcomed Dodd’s annual event being held today, noting “our overall numbers [of consumers served] are up 20 to 30 per cent from last year.”

“We’re just so grateful for all the community support,” Evans said. “We’re all trying to feed the same group of people, our most vulnerable citizens, so we support each other.”

On Thursday, nearly 40 volunteers helped Our Place kitchen staff dish up 1,000 plates of turkey, 500 pounds of vegetables, 250 pounds of stuffing, 25 gallons of gravy, 55 pounds of cranberry sauce, 125 pumpkin pies and 1,500 cups of coffee.

“It has to be fun,’ says kitchen manager Brian Cox, explaining how they pull it off. “We have a great team of volunteers, a mixture of the old and new, a lot of happy hands willing to work.”

Retired stay-at-home mom Shelagh Partridge and her husband Bob, a retired schoolteacher, have been volunteering at Our Place since they first heard there was a need six years ago.

“It has turned into one of the most wonderful things we do,” she said. “We’ve also met some of the nicest people ever.”

Recalling “I could hardly make it down the stairs” after volunteering for four hours at Our Place her last time out, Pam Madoff said she couldn’t resist returning.

“I love the sense of community and the people you get to meet even though you’re running around with food,” she said. “It also reminds me how difficult the life of a professional server is.”

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