Communal lunches on Christmas Day will be replaced with individual meals at homeless hostels in Dundee.
But organisers at the Salvation Army say they’re still determined to make the day full of joy and even have a few surprises in store for residents at Strathmore Lodge, on Ward Road, and Burnside Mill, on Milne’s East Wynd.
The charity usually feeds around 30 people who are homeless, vulnerable, or isolated and residing within one of the shelters at its communal festive meal in Dundee on Christmas Day.
Covid-19 has forced organisers to come up with a safe alternative, consisting of residents at the army’s two homeless centres eating individual meals in their rooms.
Majors Carole and Gordon Tucker lead the Salvation Army’s community church in Dundee and are chaplains at both homeless shelters.
Major Carole said: “We can’t do what we usually would but we’re going to make it as special as we can.
“We’re working on things at the moment and planning other ways to make it special but it will depend on what the guidelines are at the time.”
The move echoes changes made at the organisation’s drop-in, which would usually offer a free hot meal to members of the community from its church building on Thurso Crescent.
Instead, hot meals are cooked and handed out as takeaways, along with a “substantial” food bag, consisting of essentials including tinned food and other items such as toilet paper.
Carole added: “Before Covid we only did the drop-in on a Friday night but we’ve increased it to two evenings a week now because the demand was there.
“People need it and some people rely on it, some for the food and others for the company – some people are really lonely because of Covid and we’re here to help in any way we can.”
Carole said there has been an overall increase in the number of people using the drop-in and that the two-day-a-week operation was set to continue beyond Christmas.
Demand for food parcels ‘higher than ever’
The approach comes as demand for food parcels has soared across Dundee; there are now 23 food providers operating throughout the city – many newly established this year.
Community cafes have also been forced to change their methods as a result of the pandemic and many have opted to offer food parcels instead, including Lifegate at Whitfield Parish Church.
Debbie Findlay, a community worker there, says the organisation started providing packages in April when it had to temporarily close the cafe – opened in 2015 – and now demand for food is higher than ever – especially with Christmas coming up, as many look for meals in Dundee.
Lifegate Community Cafe has fed more than 11,000 people with its parcels since they were introduced and are now seeing their highest weekly figures; around 150 to 200 people per week.
Debbie said: “We’ve seen a wide variety of people come to us, some with very good jobs but they are furloughed and that 20% has made a huge difference to them.
“And, with Christmas coming up, we’re seeing people who are spending their only spare money on presents – something’s got to give.
“We’ve also been collecting good-quality board games to give to families too, to encourage them to be together and spend time together.”
As Christmas Day and New Year’s Day both fall on a Friday, the cafe will be open on Tuesday December 22 and 29 instead.
Festive Food Giveaway
The Community Fridge, on Perth Road, will also be closed on these two Fridays and is planning a festive food giveaway on the evenings of Christmas Eve and Hogmanay, to help people prepare meals in Dundee.
Both events start at 7pm and will feature lights and decorations in the outdoor area at the Fridge, festive music and a food frenzy.
Lynsey Penny, the organisation’s project co-ordinator, said: “Our Christmas Eve and Hogmanay collections are from shops that are closing early for a few days so we always have a lot of food.
“We did a similar thing last year and the uptake was great, lots of people came down – people who need it and other people who just don’t want it to go to waste.
“There’s a real mix in the type of people who use us. The focus of the project is about reducing food waste so no one feels stigmatised or embarrassed to come to us; we’re here for the whole community.”
Lynsey added that the Community Fridge has been busier this year, citing Covid-19 as one of the reasons for that, along with a growing presence in the city and awareness of the aim of the project.
She added: “We don’t always get a chance to chat with people if the queue is long but some people want to tell their story – some haven’t spoken to anyone for nine months.
“A lot more people are telling us they’re struggling more now than before Covid, for many of them it’s the first time they’ve known poverty.
“We do our best to signpost people onto relevant services when we can as our project is more of a supplementary thing than a reliant.”
If you need help accessing food, see the Dundee Foodbank website for more information on how to receive a referral.