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‘Surely we can provide’: How 2 retired Islanders joined forces to feed homeless

Comox Valley initiative offers lunches to over 25 clients of the Connect Centre, three times a week
Samuel, a client of Courtenay’s Connect Centre quietly enjoys a meal donated by the members of the community, on March 18, 2024. (Olivier Laurin / Comox Valley Record)

At the end of 2023, two retired Comox Valley residents got together and tinkered about ways to support the region’s growing unhoused population.

Ann Zanbilowicz and Dorothy McGinn recognized that they couldn’t single-handedly solve the issues of housing, addiction, or the lack of services. However, they believed they could alleviate some of the pressure felt by many.

“Dorothy and I… had both gone by (the Connect Centre) and seen all the homeless people. We wanted to do something,” Zanbilowicz said. “It just feels so wrong that people were starving in the Comox Valley when most of us had so much.”

“We cannot be indifferent. We have homes, warm beds and food. Surely we can provide for those who don’t have resources. We found the money to pay for COVID and to fund foreign wars. Why can’t we find the money to provide appropriate services for those in need?”

The two ladies ultimately concluded that providing meals to the unhoused would be the most effective approach.

Uncertain at first how to bring this idea to life, McGinn proposed the Meal Train - a free online service designed to facilitate the co-ordination of meal distributions.

After creating a profile, the retirees pitched their idea to the community through a Facebook post, hoping to find some who would be willing to lend a hand.

“The response was so great that we quickly were able to expand the program and have a hot dish and a dessert at lunchtime on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,” said McGinn.

With more than 30 participants from across the Valley, volunteers are preparing and donating meals, along with providing essential everyday items such as personal care products, blankets, rubber boots, and coats to Courtenay’s Connect Centre.

Mario Palmas, a staff member at the Connect Centre, has witnessed the positive impact of this initiative.

“Not only has it been a big blessing for the Connect Centre staff to be able to provide warm lunches for the clients, but it has also brought lots of love and smiles from the clients,” Palmas said.

“When you have this beautiful freshly made lasagna or a lovely casserole getting dropped off, it’s something that would not be provided without their help.

“It’s just incredible to see how thankful the clients are for them providing that service. They’ve honestly gone above and beyond with their generosity and their time.”

Samuel, a client at the Connect Centre, was quietly enjoying his meal on a Monday afternoon when he shared how grateful he was for having access to such a service.

“The food is really good, (and) it’s healthy. (We feel like) we’re being taken care of and we know that a lot of it has to do with the community - which we are very grateful for,” said the man. “I’ve been in a community where there’s nothing or you get old food, but this is fresh.”

Despite feeding lunches to an average of 25 people three times a week, Zanbilowicz and McGinn seek additional volunteers to expand the reach of their initiative.

“People (just have to) log into the site, open the calendar, choose a date and indicate what they are going to make. We provide instructions for where and how to deliver the food,” said McGinn.

Feeling powerless at times, Zanbilowicz remains optimistic that a little act of kindness from a single individual can go a long way.

“It seems like we’re doing so little, but at least it’s something. We’re not politicians and we’re not fundraisers. We’re not in a position to do anything about homelessness or drug addiction. (But what we can do is) contribute in some small ways.”

To participate or have more information about the Meal Train, visit

READ ALSO: Out cold: Spending the coldest night of the year with Courtenay’s homeless

Olivier Laurin

About the Author: Olivier Laurin

Olivier is a bilingual multimedia journalist from Montréal, Québec. He possesses a deep curiosity and a passion for exploring the connections between people and their communities.
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