In the basement of a Victoria church, a group of volunteers – with the help of business and community donors – battle food insecurity one brown paper bag at a time.
Standing outside near a back entrance to St. Andrew’s Cathedral on a chilly winter morning, Andre Dubeau jokes about a couple extra pounds he put on the last two years since he started dining with The Soup Kitchen.
The Soup Kitchen, a non-denominational group that works out of the church basement, has been feeding folks facing hard times for more than 40 years. In March 2020, the organization transitioned from sit-down service to a bag lunch.
“Since that time, the quality and quantity of food we are giving out to our community has increased substantially,” volunteer Teri Hustin says.
A bag includes soup, sandwich, two pieces of fruit, yogurt, a sweet or two, granola bar if they’re available, coffee or tea, bottled water, boiled egg and several side items. On some days, folks can grab donated day-old Cobbs bread and a tub of peanut butter, and sometimes a book or a blanket while they’re there.
Dubeau pops into the space and grabs a brown bag and coffee, then dashes back up the stairs to the street, where a man with a walker patiently waits. The fellow was a volunteer with the soup kitchen previously, Dubeau explains, but had hip surgery.
The long, winding accessibility ramp to the basement kitchen is a little daunting for someone healing and using an aid to walk.
Dubeau has been a daily diner at what was once called the 9-10 club – where people could hang for that mid-morning hour and have coffee, warm up and visit – for a couple of years now.
Dubeau says he’s not good with cash, but with the help of the soup kitchen, no one could really starve.
A bag lunch comes alongside bread and buns plus peanut butter, something he also purchases as a staple.
“Otherwise I’d starve,” he says.
He doesn’t use some other services in town becuase while he admits no place is perfectly safe, some feel less safe than others. Suffering from social anxiety, he knows there are several diners who miss the days of lingering at a table to talk and hang out.
For him, the shift to bag lunches is a bit of a godsend. He’s in, grabbing some food and interacting with a handful of folks, then out again.
“This is my inspiration in life,” says Cindy Lacroix, standing atop the same path Dubeau trotted up.
Lacroix works security and sees many angels come through her line. For two years she’s offered her time, drawn there by the people, who come from adversity yet are cheery and positive.
It’s important enough that other work she does works around these mornings, at all times. On this day, she’s fresh off a shift that ended at 7 a.m. and ready to roll through the line up View Street with a smile.
The goal is to get a meal to them all.
Most days it’s an easy achievement, done with elbow bumps and kind words. Some days, she may need to be flexible to get that done.
For her, the hardest part is seeing seniors who are homeless and young families on the brink of something that looks like homelessness.
The organization formalized tracking meals served in 2021 and saw a 10.7 per cent increase in 2022 over the year before with a total 32,724 meals, says team lead Susan Nawrocki.
All agree the patrons come from a wide demographic, including seniors, folks on fixed incomes, those experiencing mental health or addiction issues, and sometimes just those trying to stretch the food budget.
There are no questions asked, people just come and get some food, kindness, compassion and respect.
“It’s a really fun place. The people that we serve are so grateful and they’re so nice and we have good laughs while they’re in. It’s just a really fun place,” Nawrocki says.
On Nov. 12, 2022, The Soup Kitchen celebrated 40 years of feeding community. To mark the occasion, the agency aimed to raise $24,000 – or 4,000 meals – in 40 days.
The campaign raised raised just over $33,000, that means 5,500 meals.
The Soup Kitchen is open mornings Monday to Friday. Learn more at thesoupkitchen.ca.
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