In gloves and a hair net, Gord Pedersen meticulously cut turkey and casually discussed a time in his life — decades ago — when he would sleep in the doorway at Vimy Arena and fashion meals out of fast-food ketchup packets and water.
"I lost a lot of weight like that," he said with a laugh.
After coming to Winnipeg from Toronto 32 years ago, Pedersen fell on hard times and became transient. Today, his life is entirely different; he owns a car dealership, is married and has two sons.
He is devoted to paying his change of fortune forward, especially on Christmas Day, part of which he spent volunteering at Agape Table with his family.
"Christmas presents and stuff like that, we don’t really do that, so this is my Christmas," he said. "I love it. Makes me feel so much better."
Agape Table was a bustling hive of activity Friday as masked, socially distanced volunteers prepared turkey, gravy, baked potatoes and other holiday staples while manoeuvring around crates filled with food waiting to be packaged for visitors.
Because of COVID-19 public-health restrictions, people were asked to wait outside to receive a bagged, take-out meal instead of being invited inside for the usual sit-down Christmas dinner.
The independent non-profit provides bagged meals to anyone in need every weekday morning and hosts a food-hamper program for families twice a week.
Pedersen is a regular volunteer at Agape and other charities around the city, and said he often finds himself marvelling at the services they provide to Winnipeggers.
"There was no place advertised like Agape or Siloam (Mission), so somebody like myself who was transient, I didn’t even know it existed, I didn’t know what level of help was available," he said.
"So this is fantastic. I absolutely love what they’re doing for the temporarily displaced folks in this city."
The Furby Street organization receives no government funding and relies solely on donations and the support of community members — including an estimated 2,000 volunteer hours a week — to keep the program running.
COVID-19 hasn’t stopped people from visiting Agape Table, volunteer co-ordinator Tyler Engel said. Approximately 400 people use the service in just the four hours the space is open every weekday.
About 50 volunteers were on hand for the two Christmas Day shifts Friday morning.
"By helping others, a lot of people help themselves," Engel said.
"We might not risk going travelling or doing anything like that, but helping the people that are really down and out right now is something people still really want to do and will take that risk."
Visitors came and left in waves to pick up food, some choosing to eat right outside the building. Robert Scott was one of Agape Table’s visitors, but is a regular in more ways than one; he utilizes the service on many weekdays and, until the pandemic hit, he would volunteer his time as well.
"I just wanted to give back to the community… I just wanted to help people, I’d clean the floors here, I enjoyed it," he said.
Scott, who worked in corrections until he retired, said he finds himself returning to Agape Table because of an enduring sense of hope that surrounds the organization.
"These people do good work, they provide meals, they don’t have to do it," he said. "But it’s all a good thing."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.