Hot plate coming through

Volunteers serve up hot plates of food on Wednesday, Dec. 5 as part of the 2018 PAGC Community Meal. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

It’s rare to see an organization providing free meals run out of plates before they run out of food, but that’s what happened at the annual Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) community dinner.

The demand has always been great for the 15 years the PAGC has hosted the free meal. However, this year’s overflow crowd at the Prince Albert Indian Métis Friendship Centre was so large it sent volunteers and organizers on a search for more plates to accommodate the need.

PAGC urban services manager Geoff Despins said it’s no surprise to see such a strong response to the annual event.

“We realize Christmas can be a very stressful and difficult time for some, and we hope as many people as possible are able to enjoy a great meal,” Despins said. “Hopefully we create a welcoming and friendly atmosphere for everyone.”

Typically, between 300 to 500 people come out to the event every year. Although the PAGC oversees the operation, the organization draws on a large pool of volunteers and donors to help put it on.

That group includes everyone from the Friendship Centre, who donated the use of their facility for free, to members of the Prince Albert Police Service who handed out juice boxes and players from the Prince Albert Titans Junior B hockey club who helped serve elders and clear tables. A number of other organizations and local First Nations communities also pitched in one way or another.

“There are a lot of people that are in need of something like this, and it’s nice for our boys to really be there and see that people are in need,” said Titans president and GM Wayne Mesenchuk, who also came out to help. “This is a very special meal, and an opportunity to see how other members of our society struggle from time to time.”

“Everybody that’s here is giving back to the community,” Despins added. “Supporting each other is a big deal.”

The meal wasn’t the only draw on this day. Children who attended the meal with their parents also had a chance to visit with Santa and receive a free gift.

Despins said they’re always excited to plan and serve the meal, and as long as they have the means, they’ll find a way to make it happen long into the future.

“We just look forward to hosting it every year and we look forward to continuing our tradition,” he explained. “For the last 15 years we’ve held it and it won’t go away for a long time.”