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Serving hope one meal at a time
There’s a flurry of activity as volunteer Bert Osmond scrambles eggs and sizzles mouth-watering bacon on a huge stainless steel propane stove.
Red seal chef and fellow volunteer William Clarke, affectionately known as Bucky, is doing his share too, while still others carry plates out to hungry patrons.
At one end of the dining hall’s long tables, Glenda Rubia has one word for the hearty breakfast she is tucking into: “Delicious!”
She and her husband Reg, who regularly come to the region to visit family, are among the first guests of the Salvation Army’s new commercial kitchen.
At the door, Capt. Maurice Collins greets people as they arrived. Although he’s only been stationed at the Port aux Basques branch for two years, Collins has already overseen significant changes, including consolidation and relocation of the Thrift Shop and Food Bank to a larger building on Main Street.
“When a Salvation Army officer is appointed to a church, they are also appointed to a community, so part of the Salvation Army is the church, first and foremost, but the other big part of the Salvation Army is helping people,” says Collins, who immediately transfers credit to the volunteers and residents.
“The community helps us to help others, and now this kitchen will help feed others and give them nutritious meals.”
The branch’s latest pet project, a $72,000 commercial-grade kitchen, was finished in February, 13 months after Collins first sought funding.
While the official ribbon cutting was scheduled for the Salvation Army’s 125th anniversary on Saturday, May 18, Tuesday morning the public was invited to breakfast as part of the organization’s annual Red Shield fundraiser.
“We got our funding in July (2018), and then it took the process of getting construction done, getting everything approved,” he says, listing off the numerous regulations and compliances that came along with such a project, even after construction was completed. “Everything had to be perfect. That took two to three months to get it all finalized.”
Collins secured funding for the new kitchen through Food Banks Canada, the Walmart Foundation, and the province. Designed to support the Salvation Army’s food bank, the funds were available to help with building materials, kitchen equipment, kitchenware and even heat pumps in the main chapel.
Everything has been thoroughly inspected and certified, including the new fire suppression system. Already during the few winter months since installation, Collins says the heat pumps have cut the building’s heating costs by half.
“One of the things that was in the criteria was a feeding program,” says Collins. “And we saw a need, with the amount of people going to that, for a kitchen.”
The Community Café is only offered once a month, and Collins estimates anywhere from 50 to 80 people attend, and not just for a meal. He says statistics reveal about 60 per cent of people who attend community kitchen events are just lonely.
“There’s a lot of singles in the area, and cooking meals that are hearty and healthy, just doesn’t happen. It’s just boxed food and quick food,” he says.
Now that the Salvation Army has its new kitchen up and running, the public will be able to get a healthy meal twice a week, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays.
“People can drop in here and get a free meal, and if people want to come in and just have a meal and want to give a donation, that will be available for them, as well,” offers Collins. “And if anybody wants to talk, we’ll be here to listen.”
The propane stove and the heat pumps can be operated by generator, which means the Salvation Army can offer its building as a warming centre during a prolonged power outage. Volunteers are already in place so that four hours after an initial power failure, the kitchen will be completely up and running, ready to serve those in need of food and shelter.
“The second part of that is, with this kitchen, if there’s an emergency in the area, we’re going to be able to mobilize and feed people,” he notes. “We’ll be able to deliver to first responders right on the spot.”
The Salvation Army captain will give more details about its role as a warming centre at the Newfoundland Power presentation to stakeholders, being held at St. Christopher’s Hotel on May 29.
Meanwhile, Collins is working on adding yet another food program to the schedule, perhaps on Wednesdays.
“A school lunch program, which will be a healthy program,” he says.
Collins has noticed a lot of students eating junk food for lunch and wants to offer an alternative choice.
“That’s next on my to-do list.”
As the kitchen gets up and running, the Salvation Army is hoping to recruit more volunteers, who must undergo a routine screening process.
Anyone interested can contact him at 746-3618 or via email at: Maurice_collins@can.salvationarmy.org.
Food bank experiencing spring shortage
Port aux Basques Salvation Army Capt. Maurice Collins says when the long winter gives way to spring, the local food bank tends to face shortages.
“Shelves get pretty bare. We’ve had to go out and buy some food lately,” admits Collins.
The annual Kettle Campaign donations and people who give regularly to the church have allowed for the purchase of some food, and as part of the Food Association of St. John’s, the Salvation Army also receives national product to distribute.
These measures can only stretch so far, and typically shelves are better stocked during the Christmas season.
“This time of year is hard, spring and summer, and that’s a great need as well,” says Collins.
To help out, the Port aux Basques Leos Club is helping to solicit donations.
The Salvation Army will also be launching its new program, qualified under the National Food Bank, called After The Bell.
“It’s a school program where 60 children from the area will get a box of food every week all summer. And in that will be some fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, as well,” says Collins.
“We’ll make sure that we go out every week and buy fresh product and put it in that box.”
Being familiar with the community means Collins has already identified some children for the program, but he is still going through his list of kids who may qualify.
“If anyone wants to come in and apply for it they can.”