Making your way in a new place is never easy - but turkey, presents and a bearded man dressed in red flannel can go a long way to help.
So goes the logic behind the Sons of Italy’s Christmas Eve Feast, a free annual dinner for West End community members, which is sponsored by Italian business owners from the surrounding neighbourhood.
The event is organized by Garibaldi Lodge, a local joint chapter of the Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association and Order Sons of Italy - the latter of which, according to lodge president Tat-Liang Cheam, is North America’s largest and oldest organization representing Italian heritage.
While the seventh annual feast, taking place Monday, Dec. 24 at X-Cues Billiards and Café on Sargent Avenue, is expected to draw 300 neighbours of all stripes from the area, Cheam says reaching out to lower-income families and new immigrants is a priority.
“We’ve all been in the same boat,” he explains, noting many members of Winnipeg’s Italian community are first or second generation immigrants to Canada.
John Giavedoni, a board member of the Sons of Italy and co-chair for the annual feast, says the event, which relies on close to 40 volunteers and donated contributions from other Italian businesses across the city, has served around 125 turkeys (plus a lot of pasta) to some 1,800 guests since 2006.
“It’s such a feel-good event - a true Italian dinner,” Giavedoni says. “Everyone goes home with a full stomach.”
Full stomachs indeed.
Sorrento’s, a West End institution for Italian cuisine since 1975, donates labour to prepare the feast every year.
Gerry Lomonaco, who owns the Ellice Avenue restaurant, says helping out has become a holiday tradition in its own right.
“We love it,” he says. “It gives us a lot of pleasure to give back to the local community as much as we can, especially to those who are new living here.”
To Sal Infantino, who owns X-Cues, the feast is a great way of fostering a sense of community in one of the city’s most diverse neighbourhoods.
“We’ve been in this area for 43 years,” says Infantino, who grew up around the popular gathering place after his father opened the establishment in 1969. “In that span of time, you get to know people who live nearby pretty well.”
The licensed pool hall, café and restaurant, which plays host to a wide range of other community events year-round, seems to have taken up a special role in the local immigrant experience, says Infantino.
“For a lot of people new to Canada and to Winnipeg, this is one of their first stops,” he says. “It’s definitely somewhat of a hub for any new community coming here.”
Attendees of the feast also receive gift baskets donated by community members, which include age-appropriate toys and warm clothes for children, and food, hygiene and clothing hampers for adults and their families.
For younger guests, the event is often a memorable one.
“There’s nothing quite like seeing a kid from another part of the world meet Santa for the first time and get their picture taken with him,” Infantino says. “For a lot of them, it’s a really exciting thing.”
The first of three meals is set for 11:30 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 24 at X-Cues Billiards and Café at 551 Sargent Ave. Reservations are still available. To learn more about the feast and other charitable events organized by the Sons of Italy, visit www.sonsofitaly.ca/events.
Published in Volume 67, Number 14 of The Uniter (December 7, 2012)