Family Centre rings in the holidays with early Christmas dinner

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

The turning of the calendars to December means the holiday season has descended upon Fort Frances, and like many others do, the Fort Frances Family Centre made sure to help their visitors enjoy some festive spirit.

The Family Centre held their Christmas dinner for patrons on Friday, December 3. The Family Centre is a go-to spot for a hot meal for the vulnerable populations in Fort Frances, and has traditionally held many holiday dinners, including Christmas and Thanksgiving. Monica Sus and Traci Lockman at the Family Centre said they have found, in the past, with so many other organizations holding their own Christmas dinners in late December, they wanted to change their strategy.

“We’re having an early dinner this year because last year, every time we planned, a different agency was doing theirs,” Lockman said.

“Last year I think we and four other agencies had their dinners the same day. We’ll do other dinners throughout the month anyway.”

To help ring in the season, even if a few weeks early, Sus said the volunteers and visitors to the Centre decorated a Christmas tree, and made other holiday crafts. There were even Christmas cookies made and shared.

Sus said other organizations and establishments have shared food with them in the past to help those who use the Family Centre celebrate the holidays, and she anticipates the same will happen this year. Still, the Family Centre makes sure to have a dinner that is all their own.

It’s important to note that for many people who make use of the Family Centre, there is no alternative for the holidays. Lockman explained that many of the people there have no family to spend that time with or have been completely disconnected from what family they do have.

“Many have burned their bridges with their families,” Lockman said.

“Most of these people don’t have families that come to look for them at Christmas. They have the community dinner on Christmas Day, and they all look forward to that. But they have a sense of belonging here. We remember everybody, we remember their children, and a lot of these individuals don’t have their children, so it’s a very difficult time. Or they’ve lost a lot of people. With the drug issue the way it is, we’re losing them on a regular basis.

“So, it’s a sense of belonging, a sense of celebration at Christmas that they’re not used to,” said Lockman.

All of the visitors to the Family Centre, whether it be for Christmas dinner or other purpose, must be double vaccinated. The Family Centre has helped to ensure vulnerable members of the population can get their shots, by driving people to the vaccination clinics located around town.

“That’s our thing – we are vaccination, vaccination, vaccination,” Sus said. Even on Friday, nurses were on site to administer flu shots to those who wanted one.

No one is turned away, however, with the Family Centre volunteers having set up a separate area in the building to help those who are not fully vaccinated. Lockman said there is a disconnect for people living on the streets as they have no reliable way to watch the news, and thus were less informed about the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They really didn’t have the same concept of what was happening in the world,” Lockman said.

“They don’t watch TV, they don’t know what’s going on; they’re just in survival mode. Plus, a lot of false information is floating around on Facebook, so educating people and driving them to participate in the vaccine clinics was really important.”

Diane Casper is one of the people who visits and makes use of the Family Centre on a regular basis, and she said the impact it has had on her life is enormous.

“Before the Family Centre opened, we’d try to find any place we could to sleep,” Casper said. “That means hallways, corners, the banks, any of those spots. Or layer our clothing. Here, the ladies do tremendous work, and they go out of their way for us.”

The Fort Frances Family Centre has launched the holidays early, by decorating the Centre and hosting their Christmas dinner. The Centre is a home and a place of belonging for many who don’t have another place to belong. – Ken Kellar photo

“I didn’t learn this until about a year ago, because I used to treat them really badly, but now that I realize what they go through and what they do out of their own pockets, I love them for that, because they’ve certainly helped me.”

While the Christmas dinner on Friday has passed, there are ways to help the Family Centre provide more hot meals and festive tidings to those in need. Sus notes that as a part of the Volunteer Bureau, the Family Centre can now issue charitable receipts for monetary donations, contrary to what she said has been disseminated on social media.

Food donations are appreciated as well, but the Centre is also in need of more practical items that many people might not consider.

“Some of the churches gave backpacks,” Lockman said.

“For the women there were feminine products in them, and for the men they had deodorant. Backpacks get worn out so fast, so we are always in need.”

“And mitts are like gold here,” Sus continued.

“We never start the year with enough mitts and just as fast as we get the mitts and gloves, we give them out, so we rarely ever have a good stash of mitts and gloves.”

The Family Centre is also always looking for more volunteers. Volunteers must be fully vaccinated and can contact the Centre through the Volunteer Bureau. As well, hours can be logged for high school student volunteer requirements.

On any given day when you drive or walk past the Family Centre, it may look like a quiet building, but according to the volunteers who spend their days there, it is a busy place where they try to make sure everyone is cared for, whether through a vaccine clinic, addiction counselling, a chance to browse the winter coat rack or just a place to sit down and enjoy a hot meal.

“There’s a lot happening here, but I’ve had people drive by on a day when there aren’t many cars and say, ‘oh, you’ve closed up that place,'” Sus said.

“No. It’s chugging along – more so than it ever has.”