Restaurant serves free Christmas feast so people can ‘feel like a family’

A Halifax family served up a Christmas feast a few days early for anyone who needed a warm meal or was far from home.

A steady stream of people showed up with empty stomachs to Basha Restaurant in the South End on Sunday afternoon for a free turkey dinner with all the fixings.

“We wanted to give them an opportunity to come and feel like a family with us,” said Rachel Hull, who opened the Mediterranean restaurant on Inglis Street with her husband three years ago.

Rachel Hull, co-owner of Basha Restaurant, said they’d already served about 25 people an hour after opening. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Her parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and nephew all helped with the enormous task of cooking for hundreds. Together, they spent the last two days preparing six turkeys, many pounds of vegetables and trays and trays of Christmas cookies.

“This is the first time we’re doing it, so we’re really not sure what to expect but we’ve got loads and loads of trays of food and nothing will be wasted so even at the end of the day if it’s not gone we’ll find people to feed,” she said.

Georgia Boutilier’s favourite part of the holidays is seeing family, and her favourite part of her turkey meal is the stuffing. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Shenice Arrakal, a student at Saint Mary’s University, is spending the holidays away from her family who are back in India.

She said the best antidote to homesickness is good food with friends. 

“I think it’s a really good gesture, like bringing in people together like us,” she said. “We’re just hanging out today, having fun and that’s what Christmas is all about, right?”

The restaurant cooked about six turkeys, plus many pounds of vegetables to be served from noon to 8 p.m. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Co-owner Chico Rashaydeh knows what it’s like to be away from family. He’s originally from Jordan and moved to Halifax nine years ago. 

But, for him, the free dinners aren’t really about the food at all. 

“We were welcomed here in this community so we have to give something back,” he said. “Maybe it’s something small or big, it depends what you can give. If you can give maybe just a hug to someone this season that would be much appreciated.”

Randy Slate said it’s the simple gestures that make a difference when you’re feeling lonely this time of year. (Emma Smith/CBC)

The holidays are a time to endure not to enjoy for Randy Slate. He said struggling to find a place to sleep some nights means cooking a Christmas meal is far from his mind.

“But these little things are important,” said Slate. “If something’s free or if you can go to a church and sit with people. It’s not all monetary. It’s the simple things.”

Lori Krueger helped serve the food. (Emma Smith/CBC)

And while this is the first time the restaurant has given away free turkey dinners, it has all the trappings of new family Christmas tradition.

“It’s really what Christmas is all about,” said Hull’s grandmother Carolyn Dunham. “I love it. It’s the best Christmas ever.”

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