PR Soup Kitchen gets financial boost

Volunteers make 96 ham and cheese buns to freeze for future meals. Left-right are Kaylee, her mother Nicole [last names unavailable], Sheila Lougheed, and soup kitchen treasurer Rose Gish.

Northern Sunrise County donates $10,000 to cash-strapped group

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

A lot more people have been eating at the Peace River Community Soup Kitchen.

The soup kitchen has been providing free community meals on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays since 2007, but only started tracking how many people were using the service a few years ago.

In 2012 the soup kitchen gave out almost 2,000 meals, and the number has continued to climb, with 3,208 meals served in 2017, and 3,902 meals served in 2018.

The soup kitchen is now actively breaking down their numbers between adults and children, and as of Oct. 16 of this year have served 556 child meals and 2,556 adult meals. It’s a total of 3,112 meals so far with two months to go.

Like a restaurant, the number of people who come for a meal varies on any given day, but usually averages 15-patrons. The most people ever served at once was 49 people.

“It’s significant,” says Tanin Behnke, chair of the Peace River Community Soup Kitchen.

Behnke says that’s especially true because people only find out about the soup kitchen by word of mouth or through the Sagitawa Friendship Centre.

“We don’t advertise our services. We don’t have a budget for that,” Behnke says.

The soup kitchen operates out of the Anglican Church basement across from Riverfront Park, making it easily accessible for anyone on foot in downtown Peace River.

Patrons of the soup kitchen come for different reasons. Not everyone who eats there is homeless, and the soup kitchen doesn’t discriminate based on circumstances.

“We have already operated right from day one that if anyone is using our services, they need them,” says Behnke.

Behnke says some examples are an older patron who travels in from out of town because he’s isolated and the meals are how he socializes, and another patron who has seven kids to feed. Homeless people do come for meals, but so do low income workers, bachelors, and high school students.

Patrons also sometimes donate to the soup kitchen through the donation jar, and soup kitchen treasurer Rose Gish says at the moment there is a total of about $250 in donations just from that jar.

Alberta Northwest United Way has contributed financial support, but in general the soup kitchen relies on private donations to continue to operate.

Shell used to donate thousands to the soup kitchen but is no longer in the community. Other smaller oil companies and local businesses sometimes donate, as do individuals.

Municipal support has been limited, with $250 a year donated by the Town of Grimshaw, and only a one-time donation of $1,200 from the Town of Peace River. Behnke says that donation was from before the format of the Grants for Groups was changed to exclude operational funding. Since everything the soup kitchen spends is operational, like the meals themselves, that excludes the program from getting the Peace River grant. The Town did pay for a volunteer to take a food handling course.

However, with use climbing, the soup kitchen has been looking for more support and considering fundraising over the holidays, something they haven’t done for five years.

“Our donations are down and our expenses are not. They’re not significantly higher but they are not down,” says Behnke.

“We try very hard to be frugal.”

“We do our very best with the finances that we get,” says Gish.

The soup kitchen is run entirely with volunteers.

The group has negotiated with restaurants in town to provide soup and sandwiches for about 20 people each meal, and then makes and once a week will make and freeze extra ham and cheese buns in case a lot of people come in on a given day. That allows meals to be served by volunteers in an hour without a lot of preparation time.

Any extra meals left over are given to the women’s shelter.

“It has been very successful,” Behnke says. “We are quite proud of the organization that we have.”

It is also an essential service for the patrons who use it.

“I’ve asked them what do you do when it’s not soup kitchen day?” says Gish.

“Wait for soup kitchen,” is their answer Gish says.

After hearing a presentation by Gish and Behnke outlining the increasing use of the program at their regular meeting on Nov. 19, several councillors agree the group clearly takes good care of their money and will not waste any donation.

“Medals to both of you for the work that you do,” Northern Sunrise County Reeve Carolyn Kolebaba says to Gish and Behnke.

Kolebaba says her council is sympathetic to people doing work for the greater good and wants to offer more support for the soup kitchen. In the past the county donated $3,000. This year the soup kitchen asked for $5,000.

“I think we have the capability of doing better for our people,” Kolebaba says.

Northern Sunrise County council has agreed to contribute a $10,000 donation to the soup kitchen this year.

Anyone else who is interested in donating to or volunteering for the soup kitchen can visit the Peace River Community Soup Kitchen website, https://prsoupkitchen.org

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