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Friendship Centre fills a void with inclusive Christmas supper

Santa visits the Mannawanis Native Friendship Centre during the community Christmas dinner, Dec. 10.

A steady flow of dinner was served at the Mannawanis Native Friendship Centre in St. Paul on Dec. 10 as volunteers and members of the community gathered for its annual community Christmas supper.

In addition to handing out 150 little stockings packed with goodies and gifts, and a number of door prizes to participants, the Friendship Centre also filled a void Tuesday night, by opening its doors to anybody wishing to come in for a hot home-cooked meal, says the organization’s Interim Executive Director Dennis Steinhauer.

“It’s all about inclusivity,” Steinhauer said. “Our doors are open to everybody; indigenous or not.”

The Centre, a not-for-profit organization, is very limited in the resources it gets financially. But, with help from the community, through the St. Paul and District Food Bank, volunteers and surrounding organizations, the Centre is able to give back to the community each year.

The supper is a time of sharing friendship with one another and creating a greater good for the community – by lending a hand and reaching out to help others who may struggle financially and not have a hot meal that is readily available.

Volunteering their time at the supper were members of the St. Paul Reconciliation Committee, individuals in the Community Learning Association’s Foundational Life Skills program and the St. Paul Army Cadets (2395 Logistics Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps).

“We wouldn’t be able to do any of this without our volunteers, they are the backbone of what keeps our doors open,” Steinhauer says.

Like most indigenous events, Steinhauer started the night by lighting sweet grass – which he used to bless the food – before enlisting an elder to say a prayer. Santa Claus was also in the building on Tuesday night. He posed with children and presented them with the stockings filled with surprises.

A giving community

The supper was made possible due to the St. Paul and District Food Bank, who donated items for the supper, alongside many other local businesses in town. Part of the raffle draw was also three Christmas trees, which was a donation from Canadian Tire.

Sharon Fisher, a volunteer at the Friendship Centre, says she enjoys volunteering at the organization because it gives her community and makes her feel welcome.

According to Larry Lambert, president of the St. Paul and District Food Bank and vice-president of the Friendship Centre, the town is a great community that never fails to look after one another.

“We get somebody coming in with something,” Lambert said. “From a nine-year-old boy who told his friends if they want to come to his birthday party, (instead of gifts) they must bring cash or food items for the food bank, to a lady who faithfully gives us $100 every few months.”

The Friendship Centre provides the community with several resources ranging from employment referrals and pre-employment courses to a family wellness program, counselling services, including a drop-in component for people to gather.

Rushanthi Kesunathan

About the Author: Rushanthi Kesunathan

Rushanthi Kesunathan joined the St. Paul Journal in 2019. She writes general news and features. She is a Tamil-Canadian from Markham, Ont. who has also written for the Globe & Mail and the Toronto Star.
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