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Gathering Place on reduced hours, but open as state of emergency continues

Executive director of human resources Nancy Elkins and Gathering Place guest Kerry O’Quinn. She’s not too shy about playing the piano, but O’Quinn felt more comfortable if the picture was taken with Elkins. Andrew Waterman/The Telegram
Executive director of human resources Nancy Elkins and Gathering Place guest Kerry O’Quinn. She’s not too shy about playing the piano, but O’Quinn felt more comfortable if the picture was taken with Elkins. Andrew Waterman/The Telegram

Guests, staff and volunteers glad to see things returning to normal

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Since the state of emergency was declared in St. John’s last Friday, it’s been horrible, Kerry O’Quinn says.

“There’s five people in the house ... there’s no food and no heat,” she said.

But once she found out the Gathering Place was opening its doors again Monday, that changed.

“It’s wonderful. ... It’s a wonderful place and it helps out the whole community,” she said.

In the kitchen were volunteers and staff who live in the neighbourhood and are able to walk to the facility to help prep, cook and serve food for their guests.

David Broom, a volunteer dishwasher at the Gathering Place, knows a lot of the guests just by living in the area. He’s satisfied knowing the guests have had a hot meal. - Andrew Waterman/The Telegram
David Broom, a volunteer dishwasher at the Gathering Place, knows a lot of the guests just by living in the area. He’s satisfied knowing the guests have had a hot meal. - Andrew Waterman/The Telegram

David Broom, a volunteer, stood in the corner, loading trays with used dishes and spraying them down, before pushing them into the dishwasher. He said the day had been “steady go.”

“Some of (our guests) have been holed up now for four or five days,” Broom said. “A bit of warmth in your belly is a great thing to have."

Donald Poole, a guest, is at the Gathering Place every day it is open.

“I loves it here,” he said. “I looks forward to it every morning, getting up and coming here.”

He’s been spending his time trying to help his elderly neighbours shovel, but says it’s been hard not having the Gathering Place available.

“I missed it,” he said. “I kind of ran out of supplies. ... I just made do on what I had. I ran out of teabags, that was the worst thing. I’ve got to have me tea.”

Donald Poole, a guest of the Gathering Place, says he’s made do since the state of emergency was declared, but he missed the Gathering Place while it was closed. - Andrew Waterman/The Telegram
Donald Poole, a guest of the Gathering Place, says he’s made do since the state of emergency was declared, but he missed the Gathering Place while it was closed. - Andrew Waterman/The Telegram

Howard Raymond Ryan, an avid reader of thriller authors such as Lee Child and James Patterson, which he often borrows from the Gathering Place, was relaxing on the couch in the social room, watching television.

He says he didn’t realize the Gathering Place was open again until someone passing him on the street told him. He was not long making his way down.

“They have been a beacon of light,” he said.

Nancy Elkins says all the Gathering Place’s guests are wonderful people. She does, however, enjoy Howard Raymond Ryan for reminding her of how young he thinks she looks. - Andrew Waterman/The Telegram
Nancy Elkins says all the Gathering Place’s guests are wonderful people. She does, however, enjoy Howard Raymond Ryan for reminding her of how young he thinks she looks. - Andrew Waterman/The Telegram

After a good meal Monday, he came back Tuesday for another. When the Gathering Place is in regular operations, it serves 17 meals a week to almost 2,000 guests. A couple hundred come through the doors almost every day.

But the community aspect is a big part of it, too, Ryan said.

“It’s very important to socialize, to be around people in emergencies like this,” he said.

As Ryan sits with executive director of human resources, Nancy Elkins, he says the last time he saw snow like this, he was driving into St. John’s to go to university at Memorial. He says the snowbanks were over his head.

“That was a lot of snow," he says. “That was when I was 16, and I’m 70, so that’s 54 years ago.”

Elkins tells Ryan that she remembers the snow piled up like that years ago, as Kerry O’Quinn sits down at the upright piano across from them and plays the beginning of Beethoven’s "Fur Elise."

Brian Janes, Derek Ashley and Matt Earle are all chefs at the Gathering Place. Nancy Elkins calls these guys her dream team. - Andrew Waterman/The Telegram
Brian Janes, Derek Ashley and Matt Earle are all chefs at the Gathering Place. Nancy Elkins calls these guys her dream team. - Andrew Waterman/The Telegram

Twitter: @andrewLwaterman


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