Many charitable Christmas community dinners cancelled due to COVID-19

Two major charitable agencies in London, Salvation Army Centre of Hope and London Marconi Club, are cancelling their annual community Christmas dinners this year due to COVID-19 concerns.

Executive director at the Salvation Army Centre of Hope, Jon DeActis, says it was a difficult choice to cancel the annual Christmas dinner, made to serve community members who may be struggling.

“Christmas for us here at the Centre of Hope will be very different. Based on people coming together, and with COVID-19, we can’t pull people in here at all, and the lineups are just not safe,” says DeActis.

At the annual community dinner last year before COVID-19, DeActis says approximately 300 members of the community lined up outside the Centre of Hope for a meal.

“We have no control over physical distancing, and if we have no control over that, we just don’t want to put people’s safety at risk,” says DeActis.

Donald Bell, a client at the Centre, says last year's community dinner was a huge turnout with large amounts of people lining up down the street by the centre.

“They look forward to it ever year and I feel sorry for everyone who is on the street with COVID right now, I went through it…everyone deserves a Christmas,” says Bell.

While the Christmas dinner for those living outside the community centre is cancelled, 200 clients who live inside the Centre of Hope will still be receiving a Christmas turkey dinner inside the cafeteria.

Board members at the London Marconi Club, which has served feasts to the community for over 30 years, say they also made the difficult choice to cancel their annual community dinner for several reasons.

One is the financial cost, and most importantly, growing concerns for public safety amidst the pandemic.

The Marconi Club board tell CTV news in a phone interview that they are looking at alternative ways to serve the community, that don’t involve a large gathering of people.

The club is also looking for sponsors.

While Christmas dinners may be cancelled at the Centre of Hope, the charity is also working to keep as many holiday donation services as possible.

The Christmas Hamper program that provides families with food, grocery store gift cards and a bag of toys for children, will still be running this year.

The food and toy distribution centre will be at the Silverwood Arena, instead of the Western Fair District.

DeActis says there will be four different checkpoints in the city where people can grab donated toys for children under 12 and food items ahead of the holidays; the locations will be announced in the coming weeks.

“We want to serve…It is a bit of a challenge for us this year, and to be honest none of us feel great about it, but we recognize this is what COVID has brought and we’re trying to do what we can to serve however we can."

DeActis also says that food banks are available and schedules are posted around the outside of the centre, so community members who need a meal can find current resources.

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