On the surface, Thanksgiving is about the people and the food. Not just any food, but turkey. Well, or stuffing. Maybe even the pumpkin pie. Everyone seems to have a favourite food at Thanksgiving. They might even argue in its defence to the same degree that people argue whether pineapple does or does not belong on pizza. Things can get heated, even before talk of politics.
Take a deeper look at the day and you will realize that Thanksgiving is about sharing, it’s about socialization and about a sense of community.
Thanksgiving is one of the few occasions during the year when people go out of their way to get together and when those who are alone and afar are not far from thoughts and prayers.
The homeless might be an exception. This Canadian Thanksgiving, thousands of people who are homeless in Toronto will spend the day alone. There will be no invitations. No place at the table. No leftovers to divvy up. Many of those who are homeless will be lucky to have a meal let alone a feast. To them, Thanksgiving is just another day, and another reminder of the struggles of being down and out, out of sight and out of mind.
93 percent of Toronto’s homeless wish they had a place of their own. 100 percent are food insecure. At some point, they have missed a meal or gone a day or days without eating due to a lack of money.
It is easy to understand how not having a home has an impact on someone’s health and wellbeing. The same can be said about not eating. Less obvious is the impact of not socializing, not having friends and not being part of a community.
People who are isolated - whether it is due to poverty, homelessness or family that has passed or is at a distance or estranged – are lonely and loneliness leads to depression and contributes to a greater risk of heart disease, stroke and premature death. The lifespan of a man who is homeless in Canada is almost half that of a man who is housed.
Imagine how special Thanksgiving dinner is to someone who believes just eating is a luxury. Suddenly that slice of pizza, with or without pineapple, is looking pretty good.
This Thanksgiving, Haven Toronto, a downtown drop-in centre, will provide turkey dinner with all of the fixings to hundreds of elder men who are homeless. Open every day, including major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, Haven Toronto offers meals three times daily; breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the last year, the centre has served over 52,000.
It’s not just about healthy eating. Haven Toronto provides a safe, inviting space for people who are homeless. A place where clients can cultivate friendships and have a sense of belonging.
The community is also getting more involved. Some see Thanksgiving as an opportunity to volunteer, and to help to prepare and serve dinner at Haven Toronto. Others are using the occasion to say Thanks, giving a meal through haventoronto.ca. Then again, that’s what it’s about: sharing, socializing and community.
To end the argument once and for all, pineapple does belong on pizza. Pizza does not belong on Thanksgiving.