Having a merry big Christmas

Harold John has taken turkey to the streets on Christmas Day in Kamloops for the past decade. This year, the event is going bigger and headed indoors

Michele Young / Kamloops Daily News
December 21, 2012 01:00 AM

Harold John of Jubilee Street Ministry is stocking up supplies for a Christmas dinner he and other volunteer partners are preparing to serve at Mount Paul United Church on Tuesday between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

None of the social agencies in Kamloops were offering street people Christmas Day dinner about a decade ago when Harold John settled into town.

He did what he's done in Calgary, and before that in Montreal.

He filled a need by filling bellies.

"It's like I'm possessed. I have to do it," he said Thursday.

He used his own oven, cooked up some turkey, put it into containers, stacked them in a shopping cart and wrapped it all with blankets to keep it warm.

Then he pushed that cart through the streets of Kamloops to hand a warm Christmas meal to anyone who needed it.

"I have been doing this for the past 10 years because no one has done it."

New Life Mission is holding a dinner on Christmas Eve and the Salvation Army served theirs up earlier this month and is doing another in January. But there's no other turkey dinner for the homeless on Christmas Day itself.

Last summer, he started cooking up pots of spaghetti and giving it out in a parking lot on the North Shore on the Saturday night before the welfare cheques go out.

It quickly became a weekly event.

"They kept asking if I'd come back the next week. So that continued," he said.

What drives him? His grandmother.

"The way I was brought up. When I was a kid, we grew up without having much. But my grandma always said whatever we had, someone else always had less than we did," he said.

"Whenever we had someone at the house, she always made sure they had something to eat. . . . We're not only giving them food, but the fellowship and the recognition that somebody cares."

John, who runs a small but dedicated Jubilee Street Ministry, has a couple of helpers.

But Christmas dinner has always been outside - snow or shine, warm or cold.

Until this year.

This year, John ran into a man he used to work with 15 years ago at Open City Productions in Montreal doing weekly cabarets for missions and shelters.

Glen Coleman came to Kamloops because his wife, Heidi, landed a job as executive director of the Royal Inland Hospital Foundation.

So John called Coleman about getting some heaters and tents for this year's Christmas dinner. But Heidi Coleman wouldn't hear of people eating out in the cold.

"I said, it's too cold. I started calling around," she said.

A few phone calls later, and they had a much warmer location: Mount Paul United Church 140 Laburnum St.

Rev. LeAnn Blackert said the church was already serving up a Thursday soup kitchen. Since she can't be with family other than her partner on Christmas Day, she'll be pitching in, too.

"It's becoming just a community effort," she said.

"I'm excited. I've always wanted to help out at Christmas dinner. I'd rather be spending the day with folks who don't have family."

Now John wants word to get out so anyone who needs a hot meal on Dec. 25 can get one.

Oh, and he'll take donations of help, money or food, too.

"A few years ago we did 80 people. For this one, because we have the church and more people involved, we're expecting 150 people, at least," he said.

"We need all the help we can get. I am not going to reject help."

Glen Coleman said volunteers can start showing up at the church at 2 p.m. Dinner's on the table from 3 to 5 p.m.

"It's really been a labour of love on his (John's) part," he said. "There's going to be entertainment and carols."

John takes any leftovers to residents at Henry Leland House or the Crossroads Inn, so nothing goes to waste.

"I usually do the turkeys by myself. But I have so many people helping us. So people are going to each be doing something," he said.

"It's sweet. It is very sweet. This is something I've been praying for for a long time. You have to have the right people around you."



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