Three-year-old Alexa Sundberg was all smiles as mom Britney set a hefty plate of turkey, ham and all the trimmings in front her Tuesday at the Ooknakane Friendship Centre.
Britney and her daughter were just two of the many people who had a warm place to go that day to enjoy a hot meal and the peace of the Christmas season.
“I really can’t tell you how much this means to the both of us and everyone in this room,” said mom as she watched Alexa chow down on a forkful of stuffing from the festive plate. “This is really important to me to see the community getting together and to see everybody who comes to the centre for resources and help from what they offer here.
“These people come here to find a little enjoyable time in their day and it just means the world to them to be able to come here to enjoy their meal. It’s the Christmas holiday and everybody enjoys everybody’s company, there’s not a single unfriendly person here.”
This was the first of what is hoped to be an annual sit-down Christmas meal provided by the Friendship Centre on Ellis Street which is a First Nations, not-for-profit society dedicated to helping all peoples.
“Today is our first Christmas hot lunch and it’s something that we believe is really important for these people who are with us here today,” said the centre’s executive director Matthew Baran, who welcomed the first wave of diners just after noon.
Among the many volunteers who made the meal possible were a group of students from Penticton Secondary School, expected to be joined by others from Princess Margaret Secondary.
That included a number of exchange students from as far away as Mexico and Japan.
“We have a pretty eclectic group here that’s for sure,” said Baran.
In addition to serving the food to the guests, students helped out in the kitchen doing prep work, and Pen High members also baked cookies and packed gift bags for those attending to take with them when they left.
“We’re here just to give a hand to people who might not have a place to go at Christmas or a place to be at Christmas and just to be part of the community,” said Pen High student Catherine Critchlow. “I wanted help because Christmas has always been a fantastic time with my family and it’s sad to think there are others out there who don’t have as fantastic a time.”
As a special treat diners started off the meal with a hot cup of specialty coffee and some appetizers before the entrée of fresh cooked ham, turkey, along with vegetables and even scalloped potatoes.
Among those in the kitchen was Donna Falck, a member of the centre’s board of directors and the person in charge of the ham.
“At this time of year it’s really cold outside and the staff and volunteers have prepared an amazing feast and presents,” said Falck. “It’s going to be a really nice time to see people who are disadvantaged to have something special for them.”
Christopher McGowan was one of those people.
“I’m alone, and I can’t tell you just how much this means to me,” he said. “This is really fantastic and it is really going to bring a lot of people together and that’s what Christmas is all about.”