FOR hundreds of hungry Winnipeggers, their first meal of 2013 was one they won't soon forget.
The Union Gospel Mission hosted its annual New Year's Day dinner Tuesday, serving plate upon heaping plate of turkey and all the trimmings for the city's homeless and needy population.
Paul Kimball, public relations manager of the inner-city mission, said the tradition is a way to reach out to the community at a time when most people are at home with loved ones.
"Most of the people that show up are street people," he said. "A lot of the things we take for granted, like big Christmas dinners with our families, they don't get."
All of the meals, which included turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, vegetables, cranberry sauce and dessert, were prepared and served by about 50 volunteers. City businesses and individuals donated the food, as well as the gifts presented to the guests when they finished eating.
Kimball estimated about 350 people were fed throughout the afternoon and said the mission had enough grub for many more.
"If it turned out there were 2,000 people, we would keep feeding them until everybody had a meal," he said. "We wouldn't close the doors until everyone was fed."
Phyllis Ark has been attending the annual dinner since she moved to Winnipeg from Nova Scotia about 10 years ago. She said it was delicious, as usual.
"It's always a beautiful meal here," said Ark, 78. "Everybody loves it."
Ark, who volunteers with the Winnipeg Police Service, said the meal is about far more than just the food.
"It does a lot of good for the community, bringing everyone together like this."
Rob Creter, who is homeless, agreed.
"I think it helps the morale of the homeless people and gives them somewhere to go," he said.
"A lot of them are pretty miserable this time of year. They don't have any place to go, they're grumpy, they're a little more edgy.
"This is something for them to look forward to."
Bonnie Stafford, who has volunteered at the Union Gospel Mission for eight years, said what sets the meal apart from those at other shelters and soup kitchens is the chapel service beforehand.
"We try to keep them fed but we also feed them spiritually," she said. "That's the part that the people really, really get and seem to enjoy."
Stafford said the meal is as meaningful to her as it was to all of the guests.
"I look forward to it every year," she said.
"I think the people who volunteer here get way more out of it than the people who come and eat."