A Downtown Eastsider who had not had a turkey dinner in several years, didn't want to miss out this year. He had been told by other Downtown Eastsiders that the Christmas dinner at the Salvation Army can be counted on to be good, and the volunteer servers are always eager to ensure people enjoy their dinner. So he headed over there today. But he got there too late; the security guard told him the dinner ended at 1:50 p.m.
Another Downtown Eastsider suggested he head over to the Evelyn Saller Centre cafeteria, "the 44". It's not free though, it's two dollars. He had three dollars and something in his pocket. His father had sent him money this Christmas but he was broke; his money got stolen. He has a mild head injury and seems to often get money stolen from his room, or he gets pick-pocketed, or "rolled" as they say. "I've been feeling jinxed", he said.
He headed over to the 44 where a female security guard in a blue "Security" jacket, young with blonde hair in a pony tail, was warmly greeting people with, "Merry Christmas", at the door. But the Christmas spirit ended at the door (except for Santa who was in the back of the Centre giving out gifts.)
The man waited for his turkey dinner in a long line-up stretching outside the cafeteria, and when he got inside, two City workers were shoving plates of turkey dinner onto the glass counter over the steam trays. People in the line-up would grab a plate as they passed, pushing their tray along. The counter is above eye level unless a person is tall, so some people have to crane their necks to see what's on the plate. Anyway, this guy saw the person in front of him take a plate of turkey so he took the next plate. "All I saw was the brussel sprouts", he said. As soon as he picked up the plate, he realized it wasn't even close to being a turkey dinner. It was cabbage rolls, two of them with tomato sauce, and three or four brussel sprouts on the side. So he went to set it back down on the counter and take a turkey dinner. "Too late," said one of the City servers, "You touched it, you have to eat it."
These servers would have known that the guy they were stickin' with cabbage rolls on Christmas didn't have a second $2 for Christmas dinner. They know their clientele. It's not uncommon for diners to have no money and have a welfare account there; the government prefers to finance meals when possible, rather than hand out cash to people who may have difficulty handling money. This guy doesn't have a welfare account, but he does eat there occasionally and he certainly looks poor. Compare the clientele to the servers who are at roughly the same educational level but make, according to a regular diner who chats with one of the staff, $22 an hour. Double that for Christmas. And their contract allows them to close an hour early on Christmas, 5 p.m., to eat with their families.
So the low income guy with the head injury ate the cabbage rolls. "They were awful," he said. He left quickly, forgetting to pick up his gift from Santa. He was edgy with his friends afterwards.
There were two witnesses to the CUPE members' cabbage-rolling this guy on Christmas. One of them was mistreated by the same two surly servers. She asked if she could have dark meat. One of the servers, an Asian woman, possibly Filipina, reportedly said, "No, we give half and half", but then proceeded to put mostly white meat on the plate, as if to be spiteful. Her co-server, an even more surly older white woman, snarled, "We don't do special orders." The woman told her that she wasn't expecting a special order, that half and half would have been fine, and that they were being pretty mean considering it was Christmas."
Then came a bit of a miracle. The guy who got cabbage-rolled on Christmas walked over to the Dug Out Drop-in centre where they were serving free coffee and pastries, and spotted a guy outside with a big plate of turkey dinner. He asked him where he got it and was told the Chinese Christians were giving them out at Potters Mission over at Hastings at Carroll St. So this guy went over there with a couple of friends and they were each served a heaping plate: turkey and gravy, lots of green salad with chopped red peppers, mashed potatoes, and in the centre of the plate, pieces of oranges, and chopped apples and banana. And a gigantic piece of pumpkin pie.
The Potter workers were able to actually communicate with Downtown Eastsiders. Like when they got questions about whether people could have an extra empty plate to cover their heaping plate of food so that they could take it out, or whether they could have a bag or a container, a female server would explain that they really preferred that people eat their meal there rather than take out. They had lots of chairs to sit in and a live band to listen to.
But the Potter's Mission dinner was not the last served to the cabbage-rolled man. He was told that if he returned to the Dug Out at 7 p.m., they would be serving a Christmas dinner. There was a long line-up along the back of the building, but it was worth it. They served him a heaping plate of food and put tin foil over the plate for anyone who wanted to take it out, as it's a small place and couldn't seat everybody. The volunteer server at the meat tray was asking, "What's you're preference, white meat or dark?" And even after one of the men helping out said they'd now served 100 people, each server continued greeting each person in the line with a warm, "Merry Christmas!"
Two cabbage rolls, and two Christmas dinners. Merry Christmas.