'Completely overwhelming': Dunrobin tornado victims treated to Christmas dinner

Dunrobin families still recovering from September's tornado were treated to a free Christmas dinner put on by about 40 volunteers at the Fitzroy Harbour Community Centre Saturday.

Some families still displaced and living in hotels, 3 months after storm

Aimee Bridgestock, left, and Angela Fowler, right, both lost their homes after a tornado hit Dunrobin on Sept. 21, 2018. Saturday's free Christmas dinner was a chance for the 13-year-olds to reconnect. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Dunrobin families still recovering from September's tornado are feeling grateful after they were treated to a free Christmas dinner put on by about 40 volunteers at the Fitzroy Harbour Community Centre Saturday.  

Lori McGrath started organizing the dinner just three weeks after six tornadoes tore through the Ottawa-Gatineau region. She's from Arnprior, Ont., but knows many of the Dunrobin families through the baseball league she runs.

McGrath said she wanted them to know they're still supported.

"I want to see the sparkle come back in some of these kids' eyes," said McGrath. "I think it'll be really nice for the kids to know there's a lot of people that care."

Lori McGrath began organizing Saturday's free Christmas event shortly after the tornado touched down on Sept. 21 in the west Ottawa community of Dunrobin. 0:34

Food, gifts donated

Many families are still displaced, nearly three months after the Sept. 21 storm. Some are rebuilding, while others are still waiting for insurance. 

On Saturday, police officers handed out candy canes to the more than 200 people who arrived at the community centre. Santa stopped by with gifts, and the trees and decorations were up for grabs for families to take home. 

Companies donated food and presents, with each child leaving with multiple gifts and a homemade quilt or teddy bear. The donations came from all over Ontario. 

"This is basically a hug from the community. So it's just a heartwarming hug from someone who cares," said Kanata Quilt Guild president Brigid Whitnall, who organized the blanket donations.

Whitnall also lost her home after the tornado hit Dunrobin.  

"I don't have words to say how fantastic [the event] is, and I'm glad that my guild was able to be a little part of it," said Whitnall. 

Brigid Whitnall, president of the Kanata Quilt Guild, lost her home in the Dunrobin tornado. She helped organize the quilt giveaway at Saturday's free Christmas dinner. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Families, friends reunited 

Dubrobin residents said it also felt good to be reunited, as many are now spread out geographically in temporary homes across the region.

Angela Fowler and Aimee Bridgestock, both 13, lost their homes in the tornado. For them, the Christmas dinner was a chance to catch up.

"It feels like home. Because every day [we] would always go out and play, and now it's like we can't really do that because we're far away. But now, with all this, it's like, I can actually see her," said Fowler. 

We've been through so much and now it's time to be happy.— Angela Fowler

"We've been through so much, and now it's time to be happy. And it's just good to be with our friends and family," she said.  

"It's good to have a break from stuff ...  just, like, forget about everything and just have fun," Bridgestock added. 

Still recovering and settling in 

Todd Nicholson, a Paralympian whose family has moved into a long-term rental after their home was decimated by the tornado, also said the dinner was a good chance to catch up.

He said he appreciates that people are still checking in — even months later.

"It's really been amazing, and it's all [brought] us all together even more as a community," said Nicholson. 

His wife, Emily Glossop, called the support from the community "completely overwhelming."

"We are super grateful for this, because this is going to give some gifts under the tree," Glossop said.

"But really, what really matters is just the time that we have to spend with our family and our friends and showing our appreciation."

There's still one wish organizer McGrath wants to grant, but didn't have time to pull it together — a $100 gift card for all of the 112 families that have been displaced.

McGrath said she's still hoping to find companies that can help. 

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.