The Abbotsford Salvation Army facility resembled a Christmas workshop on Wednesday afternoon.
Volunteers in red aprons bustled around tables, serving plates to clients during the Sally Ann’s annual Christmas dinner.
Santa and the Abbotsford Heat mascot Hawkey posed for pictures, while the assembly line of kitchen cooks and helpers kept a steady delivery of food to the buffet counter.
Carol music mingled with the Salvation Army’s brass band playing outside to queued clients.
Carved ham, fresh bread, mashed potatoes and cooked vegetables filled plates, while fruit smoothies donated by Snowcrest Foods were handed out along with warm apple and pumpkin pie, garnished with ice cream.
Spokesperson Deb Lowell said organizers prepared food for more than 400 people this December.
Some of those guests are homeless, but the larger number of attendees are simply unable to afford a large dinner at home.
“The last homeless count we had, we counted about 117 people. We serve around 3,500-3,800 clients a month, so there is a huge proportion of those who are needing our services for other reasons.”
Poverty levels have gone up in Abbotsford this year, Lowell said, adding that the Salvation Army put together 520 Christmas hampers this season – the most they’ve ever distributed.
Martha and Ricardo Cruz, who have four children, were among the list of families receiving a hamper this year.
“It will help to put some food on the table for the kids,” said Martha, sitting with her children at the event. Ricardo was at work.
“It’s hard for Christmas time, because you wish you could get money so can buy Christmas presents for the kids. It’s very hard to say ‘No I cannot buy this time because there is no money.’ Even for dinner, you want to have a very special dinner, but no.”
Bouncing her four-month-old daughter Casandra on her knee, the young mom explained that it is nice to take her kids out to eat, since they cannot afford to go to a restaurant.
Her 12-year-old son Cris nodded and smiled. “It’s free,” he said.
Martha’s other two children Eric, 4, and Tiffany, 6, shyly ate their dessert of gingerbread cookies, their eyes lighting up every time Santa walked by.
The jolly fellow was one of many volunteers who pitched in.
Lowell estimated that more than 50 people came to the red and blue building to offer their support.
Mayor Bruce Banman helped prepare for the second dinner sitting at 1 p.m., placing a smoothie at each table setting.
“What this event does, is it shows that there are people out there who care. The Salvation Army has a long history of showing people that they care, and that people need to be treated with respect and a sense of human kindness,” he said.