When 2,500 people wait in line — some for up to four hours — just to get a hot meal, it’s clear the holiday season keeps Hamilton’s non-profits busy.

"It’s indicative of how desperate people are," Alan Whittle, of Good Shepherd Centres, said.

Their annual Christmas dinner, to be held on December 16th, never fails to draw a crowd. Though doors don’t open until 3 p.m., hungry diners start lining up before noon, Whittle said. Each year they make sure to have enough food to feed 3,000 Hamiltonians and they usual surpass 2,500.

"We get a lot more (people) at Christmas."

Good Shepherd also runs a Christmas hamper service, providing groceries and toys for families who register. The official launch is Monday, December 3, but they’ll still be registering families throughout the month.

They work out a registration schedule with other non-profits in the area starting as early as October to make sure no one goes without during the holidays.

"All the emergency food banks work as a system at Christmas," explained Sara Collyer, operations manager at Neighbour to Neighbour Centre, another non-profit that offers Christmas hampers.

"We would never hesitate referring someone to another agency. Nobody should have to go without."

Neighbour to Neighbour registers 1,600 families for hampers each year. They’ve already registered 1,300 and Collyer predicts the last few hundred hampers will be claimed by next week.

Gifts for teens needed

They also run a grocery store style food bank year round, including a pop-up Christmas store in December. Rather than pre-packing food donations, families are assigned points which they can cash in for whatever food they need at the time.

Neighbour to Neighbour accepts fresh and non-perishable food and toy donations even after families have registered, right up through Christmas, Collyer said — they’ll even pick up donations from your home.

"We sometimes get calls right up to the 24th (of December). That’s when we see families in deep stress."

At Mission Services, it’s a similar story. They usually see around 800 registrants for their Christmas hamper program. This year, they’re already over 1,000.

"This year the need is greater," Victor Cyr, director of Christmas Care at Mission Services, said.   Since Mission Services registers children up to age 17 for Christmas hampers, there’s a particular need for gifts for teens.

"We usually get lots of stuff for the five to eight-year-old range, which is great, but we need stuff that a teenager would be interested in," Cyr said, adding there also tends to be a shortage in toys for boys age 8-12.

He also wanted to remind Hamiltonians that the need for food donations continues throughout the year.

"We could always use more. Hunger is a 365 day a year problem."