There’s no doubt the people of Sooke have a reputation for opening their hearts at Christmastime to demonstrate the generosity and caring for which the community is known.
Cathy’s Corner Cafe and their tradition of treating the community to a free lunch during the Christmas season is inarguably representative of that spirit.
For the past eight years, Cathy Gouk and her daughter Janice have offered the community a free turkey lunch, complete with cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and a side vegetable. And, of course, turkey.
“We started doing this as a customer appreciation day for our regular customers, but we saw people come in who were in need of food so we just opened our doors to everybody,” Janice said.
“We only have the three of us working here so we don’t have a (staff) Christmas party. This is our celebration — giving to others.”
Cathy laughed as she described the chaos that can sometimes arise as people come in for their Christmas meal.
“It can get pretty packed. We have customers serving each other and there’s a lot of laughing and chatting that goes on. It’s a lot of fun,” she said.
She describe last year’s free lunch event and how an unexpected power outage failed to cancel the event.
“The power went out but we kept serving in the dark for about two hours until the food ran out, and then we served turkey sandwiches. It was still a great time and people wandering in here from the dark and joined us for a meal,” Cathy said.
The Gouks estimate that they serve about 500 free meals annually as their way of “paying it forward.”
This year’s free lunch event happened on Wednesday and will continue on Thursday (Dec. 12).
But the free Christmas lunches aren’t their only charitable pursuit.
One wall of their restaurant features pen and ink drawings by Sooke resident Barry Whiting. The framed drawings are sold for $20, with proceeds sent to the Sooke Crisis Centre.
Asked why he donates his work for a charitable cause, Whiting’s response seemed appropriate as he tucked into his own free turkey lunch.
“Why do I donate my work? Why not? If you live here in Sooke, you should do something for Sooke,” Whiting said.
Gesturing at Janice and Cathy Gouk, he added, “These ladies sure do. They let me hang the art here and they help by collecting the money for me.”
“Barry’s work comes from his heart and it’s our privilege to help raise the money. It takes a lot of time and effort for him to do them (the drawings). Last year we donated money to the Crisis Centre and we had enough so that we also gave $500 gift cards to two families picked by the local schools,” Janice said.
“We were grateful to be a part of that. It really was a gift to us to do it.”