Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Holiday cheer served to the needy

Agape Table dishes out hundreds of hot meals

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Volunteer Naima pours a cup of juice for Stacey at Agape Table, where volunteers fed hundreds during their annual Christmas meal Monday morning.

MELISSA TAIT / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Volunteer Naima pours a cup of juice for Stacey at Agape Table, where volunteers fed hundreds during their annual Christmas meal Monday morning. Photo Store

Agape Table is no longer Randy Buck's secret.

"The first time I came here, there was only a little bit of people," Buck, 33, said. As he finished his meal of turkey, ham and potatoes, he recalled back then there were only about 25 people.

Buck, who has been eating meals provided by Agape Table since he was 18, looks around the crowded room and laughs. "They must have heard."

On Monday morning, 355 hot meals were served by Agape Table, a nutrition program in the West Broadway and downtown community. The program, run out of a small church on Colony Street, plans to keep serving throughout the week and expects to serve 250 more helpings of turkey.

'It doesn't matter what happened to you behind the doors, when you walk in the door you're part of our community and you're welcome'

The room buzzes as volunteers serve the food, restaurant-style, to their guests.

"They're being served," said Martina Richter, executive director at Agape Table. "They get that little bit of dignity, that empowerment."

To Richter, it's important to create an empowering atmosphere during the meals.

"It doesn't matter what happened to you behind the doors, when you walk in the door you're part of our community and you're welcome."

Since last year, Richter has seen an increase in the need for hot, healthy meals.

"Definitely more people are here today than last year," she said. "I was a little nervous, it's very cold outside."

However, when the weather does warm up and the holiday season ends, it's hard for the organization to keep up with the need for healthy food.

"Whatever we get through this month sort of helps us through the year. This is a huge make-it-or-break-it time of year."

Richter is especially proud of the number of volunteers who were guests in previous years.

"They want to give back to the community, so they actually volunteer back."

Even Winnipeg Blue Bomber Chris Cvetkovic wore a bright blue apron as he served.

Agape Table's volunteer co-ordinator Kate Reynolds said volunteers have doubled since last year. Thirty volunteers are helping serve meals to Buck and the other guests throughout the holidays, including Donna Marie Bieniarz and her family.

"We have so much, and because kids have so much nowadays, I think they need to be part of the community and do this kind of stuff," Bieniarz said.

jordan.power@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2013 A2

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