Cooking up a Boxing Day feast to remember

Fatima de Silva prepares a meal for her regular clientele at her downtown Duncan restaurant Thursday. But the Bistro 161 owner is also preparing another, bigger meal — a Boxing Day feast to feed the valley’s homeless. - Andrew Leong
Fatima de Silva prepares a meal for her regular clientele at her downtown Duncan restaurant Thursday. But the Bistro 161 owner is also preparing another, bigger meal — a Boxing Day feast to feed the valley’s homeless.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

Bistro 161 owner Fatima de Silva isn’t buying presents for her family this year.

Instead, she is giving a moment of hope to the homeless.

De Silva and her staff regularly participate in the Meals on the Ground program. Twelve groups, including restaurants like de Silva’s, churches and families, prepare dinner for the homeless once per month, which provides three meals per week. Program volunteers pick up the prepared food and serve it out of the Cowichan Green Community’s new location at the Phoenix Station Motor Inn.

But when de Silva heard no one was available to make a meal around Christmas Day, she volunteered to do a Boxing Day meal. This time, however, de Silva felt compelled to do things a little differently.

“The groups are getting bigger. There didn’t used to be such a staggering number. Sometimes 20 or 30, now there are up to 75. And there are some people bringing children. That was too much for me.”

This new reality inspired de Silva to open her Kenneth Street restaurant to host the Boxing Day dinner.

“The thing that triggered absolutely sheer sadness was when one of the volunteers told me we’re seeing kids now coming with their parents. I was shocked. At some point you still need to hold some kind of hope. I’ll cook the dinner and take it there? No. Where’s the hope in that?”

One of Bistro 161’s regular customers heard about the Boxing Day meal and spread the word that de Silva would be needing volunteers and funds to make the day a special one. De Silva is overwhelmed by the response from the community.

“The Old Farm Market came on board. Susan Minette at the Duncan Garage offered to do dessert. Morning Mist in Cowichan Bay is providing  homemade ice cream. Cow Bay Pub is helping. Suddenly people all over the place are offering to help us out in donations, offering to pay for meat, breads, napkins, juices.”

As of Dec. 12, the public and businesses had donated $1,700 for gifts and $1,800 for food. She said any excess in contributions will go towards feeding families into January.

“People were being so generous so we started asking ourselves when are these people going to be really stranded? We heard January can be a really tough month for most of the families.”

She said the event has all the volunteers needed to work on the day, but donations of non-perishable food, socks, gloves, and rain gear are being accepted.

Outreach worker Chuck McCandless, who helps organize Meals on the Ground, said the dinner will be amazing.

“It started off as this idea and people just grab bits of it and make it happen. It’s from people’s hearts in this community.”

De Silva  will serve pork roast, caesar salad, and vegetables. There will be musical entertainment throughout the day and gift bags for guests to take home, to make things memorable.

“For the kids, it’s not just lining up for another meal. They’ll remember sitting in a restaurant, children singing carols. That’s going to be a moment of hope. And sometimes that’s all you have to hold onto to keep going.”

Learn more about how you can help on the Help Feed Those In Need Facebook page.


Underneath it all

Is there anything better than pulling on a pair of fresh underwear in the morning?

Outreach worker Chuck McCandless said they receive enough secondhand outerwear for the growing number of those in need but what they aren’t getting is new underwear.

Operation: Underpants is a drive to collect 100 packages of brand-new underwear to help those in Chuck’s care. Drop off newly purchased knickers at the Cowichan Green Community and Cycle Therapy until December 21.

To learn more visit the Operation: Underpants Facebook event.

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