October 28, 2020

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'Our intimate family of 600': Crowd fills café for holiday meal

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Barry Kopulos is served at the 13th Annual Christmas Eve Feast.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Barry Kopulos is served at the 13th Annual Christmas Eve Feast.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/12/2018 (674 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

AS the music of local singer Chad Celaire filled the air at X-Cues Billiards & Café on Monday, so did the aroma of Christmas turkey.

Volunteers — including Minto MLA Andrew Swan and Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth — treated guests to a hot meal, along with warm clothing, food hampers, personal care products and even Christmas gifts at the annual Christmas Eve event, put on by a group of local businesses and organizations.

Santa was also on hand, taking last-minute requests from kids.

The annual Christmas Eve Feast, now in its 13th year, helps recent immigrants, international students who can’t make it home for the holiday season and local residents who are alone, in need or find the holiday season difficult.

"The community here was founded on immigrants," said Gloria Cardwell-Hoeppner, executive director of the West End BIZ. The organizers want to continue welcoming new arrivals.

Ben Nguyen, 19, and his parents are immigrants from Vietnam.

"We look forward to it every year," said Nguyen, whose parents don’t speak much English but enjoy the Christmas atmosphere, which they hadn’t experienced in their home country.

The event has grown from just a couple of dozen people to seeing more than 675 pre-register to take part. It has become a Christmas tradition for many, including the volunteers.

"It’s our family Christmas now," event co-chair John Giavedoni said. "We like to call it our intimate family of 600."

And what family meal is complete without the young ones? Children donning bright red sweaters and Santa hats weaved between guests, volunteers and media to deliver slices of cake as older, teenage volunteers served coffee and hot chocolate.

Making sure those young people participate and give back to the community is a part of the tradition. Organizers encourage volunteers to bring their children, Giavedoni said.

"It’s moving seeing the young kids getting involved," said Flavia Fabio, a volunteer with local Italian cultural organization Sons of Italy’s Garibaldi Lodge, who got involved with the event five years ago.

One young volunteer, 10-year-old Samantha Scaletta, participated for the first time this year, following in the steps of her older sister, who has lent a hand for the past few events.

"It’s nice to give back," Samantha said.

Cardwell-Hoeppner said some kids participate multiple years in a row, progressing from serving dessert as small children to other roles when they get older.

"They kind of grow up with the event," she said.

The community donates all the food, Giavedoni said, including pasta from De Luca’s and around 25 turkeys prepared by local families.

The event is organized by X-Cues, the West End BIZ, the Sons of Italy and Sorrento’s Italian Restaurant on Ellice Avenue.

"We run like a well-oiled machine," Cardwell-Hoeppner said, adding they only start organizing in September and usually meet just once between that time and the event itself. All the rest is done by email.

ryan.job@freepress.mb.ca

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