“What we do is food, but what we are is community,” says Dave Cunnin, Assistant Director of Agape Table, a 33-year-old community nutrition centre that aims to help out the homeless. The organization is holding an open house on Friday November 22 from 11:30 am to 2:00 pm at its 175 Colony Street (All Saint’s Church) location to get others interested in an important mission.
The open house will feature a tour, lunch and live music. Special guest, ex-Blue Bomber/musician Troy Westwood will be performing, as well as musicians playing the songs of Stompin’ Tom Connors, Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot.
Stompin’ Tom Connors’ music was chosen for a reason. “He was born to a teenage mom and lived on the streets himself,” relates Nancy Chippendale, who is helping organize the event. “When he died this past year, his family said Tom would love people to support organizations that are helping out the homeless.”
A sense of community is the driving force behind Agape Table (Agape means “love” in Greek). With only four people on operational staff, the organization relies heavily on volunteers and still manages to accomplish the amazing feat of feeding approximately 250 people every day.
On Thanksgiving morning this year, volunteers and staff cooked 35 turkeys using one little stove.
The program strives to empower guests by helping them to see themselves beyond the constraints of their situation. It worked for Cunnin. “15 years ago I was a guest here,” he says. “One day a volunteer smiled at me, and that smile was so sincere. I spent my entire life fighting what was wrong with me, and [in that moment] it switched me over to find what was right with me.”
Executive Director Martina Richter explains that homelessness can happen to anyone. She tells the story of a man who lost his business after his battle with cancer extended past his allotted 15 weeks of unemployment.
Agape Table attempts to re-empower the homeless through a unique dual system. It is free and subsidized for those who want to pay for something better. For example, a free breakfast is served every Monday to Friday, or an upgraded breakfast is available for only $1. “There’s that whole population, they don’t want that stigma of a hand out,” explains Richter. “They want to earn what they have. It gives that sense of pride.”
The centre hosts a clothing store that has free and purchasable clothing as well as a subsidized grocery store that sells mostly locally-sourced meat, dairy and produce at exceptionally low cost.
They also work with Winnipeg Harvest to provide a food bank, and Project Echo which gets unsold clothing from stores that would otherwise be destroyed.
Richter encourages anyone who is in need to stop by, not just the homeless. “Everyone at some point in their life has a need,” she asserts. “Students who are living on Kraft Dinner, get your bum in here and pick up some broccoli, buy a jug of milk. What you can do is later on when you’re making the huge dollars, give back to something, someone.”