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Dawn Norman is a Peer Navagator at the Ally Centre. She told The Third that the centre has decorated a Christmas tree and that staff and users of the centre hung lights and decorations.


While not on Christmas Day, but in the days leading up to Santa’s arrival, the centre will also provide a Christmas dinner and handout gifts to those who rely on the centre and its programs and services.


“We make sure that everyone has a good Christmas,” she said.


Norman says that thanks to the community there will be an “abundance of gifts” for people to open this year. For example, she says that a representative from the JA Douglas McCurdy Airport dropped off 100 pre-wrapped gifts with a simple tag that reads “Merry Christmas.” 


When asked where the individuals will spend the days when the centre is closed during the holidays, Norman said that like any family, they will spend it together.


“They are each others family, one big family, so they will be together. When we are closed, they tend to stay close by, they are usually around the building. That’s where I expect they will be mostly.”   


She says that despite the centre being closed during the holidays, some staff will stop by on Christmas Day to wish them a merry Christmas.


Jodi McDavid is the Executive Director of the Cape Breton Transition House, she says that working with vulnerable people is not just a job, it’s a calling. “We make choices regularly that take time away from our families, even during the holidays.”


Like the Ally Centre, the Transition House has decorated complete with a Christmas tree.


But unlike the Ally Centre, due to the nature of the work they are open 24-7. On Christmas Day, they will serve a Christmas meal and give out presents.    


“We have gifts, and we make sure that we have extra because we know that Christmas brings added stress for some.”


McDavid says that the stress of the season means that the gifts intended for some children will be destroyed or sold before they can be unwrapped on Christmas morning. Other parents don’t have the financial means to go to the retails stores to find the perfect gifts for their children.


She told The Third that some of what she sees during the holiday season is “compelling”. She has witnessed children and parents receiving gifts for the first time in their lives.


McDavid says that she has witnessed things getting worse for both the people she tries to serve and her organization. Covid, Fiona, and inflation has been a perfect storm for some people in the Third.


McDavid says that this year, Transition House will help the more than 50 people who live in their three properties in one way or another. The high costs of many food products and high inflation means that more Thirders are “choosing between food and heating their homes,” she says.   


She says that the need for grocery gift cards is much higher this year.


In addition to their shelter, Cape Breton Transition House has two apartment buildings and two rooming houses. All are full.


“Our 21 beds [at the shelter] are full; people will come in that we can’t house. In a pinch, we have had people sleeping on the living room.”


The holiday season is a particularly challenging one for many of those who find themselves at Transition House. The perfect storm is making it much harder on both the non-profits and the people they serve.  “A lot of what we are doing now is helping people process what is going on and how their futures might look going forward.”


Ultimately, what the non-profits want us to know is that the perfect storm has them at their breaking point. “What non-profits need most is for people to understand that we have a demand that we cannot fill,” says McDavid.


“Talk to politicians about our overwhelmed non-profits,” encourages McDavid.


But for this holiday, for those who want to help, both Norman and McDavid have some suggestions.


Norman from the Ally Centre suggests that if Thirders want to help those at the centre there are two ways that can really make a difference. Thirders can contribute desserts to the Christmas meal. “We always have enough food for the Christmas meal, but not enough sweets,” she says. 


Because the Centre will be closed on Christmas Day, Norman says that taking some time to come by the Ally Centre (corner of Prince and Bentinck streets in Sydney) to say Merry Christmas, with or without a little something in hand “would be wonderful” and very appreciated by those who will be on the receiving end of the greeting.


McDavid suggests grocery store gifts cards are a good option due to the financial challenges and tough choices too many Thirders are forced to make this holiday season. Cash donations are also encouraged instead of gifts because it ensures that the recipient will receive what they need most.


The Third also reached out to Cape Breton Community Housing which runs the Community Housing Shelter on Townsend Street for comment, but by deadline had not received a response.

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