Ottawa Mission prepares to serve its largest Thanksgiving meal ever

Volunteers and cooks at the Ottawa Mission have spent weeks prepping to dish out up to 12 thousand meals this Thanksgiving. It's a number that's jumped significantly since last year. The shelter's CEO says the increase in demand is due to the rising cost of food at the grocery stores.

Shelter's CEO points to rising cost of food for increased demand this holiday

A chef wearing a mask holds up a tray filled with turkey pieces.
Silvia Henriquez, sous-chef at the Ottawa Mission, holds a tray of turkey on Oct. 9, 2022. Henriquez says kitchen staff and volunteers have spent the past two weeks preparing Thanksgiving meals, with several thousand people expected to show up at the Waller Street shelter on Monday. (Celeste Decaire/CBC )

The Ottawa Mission says it's dishing out a record-breaking number of meals at the shelter this Thanksgiving, with rising food prices contributing to an all-time high demand for their services.

The Waller Street shelter is serving more than 12,000 dinners this year, roughly two thousand more than they handed out in 2021, said CEO Peter Tilley.

"Inflation is just driving people away from the grocery stores and to food cupboards, food banks, and to organizations like ours," Tilley said.

The cost of a classic turkey dinner with all the fixings now costs more than $200 for a family of four, a 12 per cent jump from last year, according to Statistics Canada.

Tilley says the shelter is also feeling the impact of the rising cost of food themselves.

"Our cost this year is going to be close to over half a million more, just to continue with the programs to meet the demand," he said.

Man leans on a blue shelf filled with bags of hamburger buns
Ottawa Mission CEO Peter Tilley says the rising cost of food means more people require their help — and they're also feeling the stress of inflation themselves. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)

'Do you guys still need a turkey?'

The Ottawa Mission is on track to serve one million meals by the end of 2022, including food for its residents, takeout meals and meals served as part of outreach programs. 

Thankfully, the community steps up in times of need "every single time," Tilley said, either by donating or volunteering.

Many people were eager to donate turkeys this year, said Silvia Henriquez, the shelter's sous-chef.

"We get like between 20 to 50 calls a day saying, 'Do you guys still need a turkey? Do you guys still need donations?'" she said.

Originally from El Salvador, Henriquez has worked at the shelter's kitchen for over a year now. 

"When I came here, I see this [job] as like, wow, people do care. We do care for other people, you know?" she said. "And that makes me even more grateful."

While the job can be stressful, Henriquez said she's grateful to be able to make a difference — even if it's by providing something as small as a meal. 

"They tell you every day somebody appreciates what you're doing. That's my payoff right there. That's my Thanksgiving."

Monday's Thanksgiving meal for community members struggling to put food on their tables will be available at the Ottawa Mission's garage entrance beginning at 11 a.m. 


Celeste Decaire

CBC Reporter

Celeste Decaire is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. She can be reached at and on her Twitter account @celestedecaire.