About 100 Winnipeggers were served a hot Christmas meal at Win Gardner Place Sunday afternoon.

Since opening its doors in 2010, the centre has provided the free lunch each year to community members in the North End.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSGordon Batenchuk shows his Christmas spirit during lunch at Win Gardner Place Sunday.</p>
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSGordon Batenchuk shows his Christmas spirit during lunch at Win Gardner Place Sunday.

The event — co-organized by the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Splash Child Care and the YMCA — aims to give back to the community, and the attendees are very thankful for both the food and the sense of belonging it gives them.

“When you don’t have a family, the community can become one,” said Jessica Livingston, 24, who’s volunteered at the centre for five years.

Livingston takes her two daughters, Hailey and Hailyn, to the centre every day.

It gives them a safe place to play, Livingston said.

Her mother, Dana Campagnolo, has also volunteered for five years.

On Christmas Day, she wore a hairnet under a Santa hat while handing out coffee to people as they came in.

“This is a place where everyone gets a chance to eat a traditional Christmas meal,” Campagnolo said.

Before Gardner Place, she says the community was missing a key element. People really didn’t have anywhere to go for help when they needed it. “It was horrible.”

Campagnolo credits the community centre for creating a sense of belonging for all who go there, from her grandchildren to the seniors who frequent the building.

Don Sterry, who says he’s “75 years old and holding,” had a rough year.

He suffered a stroke in the summer and has been recovering since.

For Sterry, the community centre has been a “godsend,” and he is extremely grateful for the help it’s given him.

“It’s a real necessity for people in the neighbourhood,” he said.

When he walked into the building on Friday, Sterry received a Christmas hamper with towels, socks, chocolates and a few puzzles. He wasn’t expecting anything, but the centre’s volunteers purchased a gift for him anyway.

“Without places like this, a lot of people would be worse off,” Sterry added.

In the gymnasium, the guests took their seats and were served turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and a host of other food by volunteers, including local businessman John Loewen, the son of Winelda ‘Win’ Gardner.

Loewen, 67, finds the annual meal to be a good tribute to his mother, who was remembered as a community activist dedicated to giving.

“It’s nice to be able to give back to a community in need,” Loewen said. “There’s a lot of need out there.”

Dana Riccio, the executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata — an Ojibwa title that translates to “We all work together to help one another” — was pleased with the response the meal got from the neighbourhood.

“You want to spend Christmas day with folks who appreciate it,” she said.

Sterry was excited to share the day with friends and strangers alike at the community centre.

“It gave me a reason to get up on Christmas morning,” Sterry said with a wide grin.