This is not the first time Laura Rose, operator of the Hay River Soup Kitchen, has had to stop food bank service for the summer, but it is the first time she has seen so many people walking through her doors.
“In the summer, the need is still there but people just don’t think about it,” she told The Hub. “What we need is Christmas every month, really.”
The soup kitchen is stopping its food bank service for the summer because of a lack of donations. While Rose said she has enough of the bulk food to keep the kitchen itself going, she doesn’t have items to put in hampers for people to take home.
“This is the neediest summer I have ever seen,” she said. “Our numbers are way high.”
Rose said May was the busiest month she has seen in all the years she has been running the soup kitchen. She said they served 661 hot lunches – a number at least 100 higher than any other month. Since then, customers have dropped off a bit, only reaching 35 per day in June and an average of 27 per day in July so far, though last Friday, Rose said she served more than 50 people lunch.
“Those numbers used to be shocking, but now it’s getting pretty normal,” she said. “There are no big construction projects going on now and the guys who normally get summer jobs on the sites, well, they can’t get them.”
The soup kitchen relies on donations, both of food and monetary. While a lot of the stuff that comes in is in bulk and good for preparing meals for 50 people, donations of smaller items good for hampers have dropped off.
“I’ve been buying those cheap chicken noodle soups for the food bank,” said Rose. “But it’s just not enough.”
From March through to May this year, no fewer than 69 families, with 148 total individuals, looked for help from the food bank. Rose said most of them are single mothers with several small children. In those three months, she said she received a total of 197 requests for help.
“I allow people to ask for groceries once a week, with the expectation that there be one week a month in which they don’t need it,” she said.
Rose said the number of people relying on the food bank has been creeping up over the past year and has skyrocketed in the past few months.
She said she used to be able to give a small amount of meat to recipients, donated by local grocery stores, but now even the stores have started tightening their belts and cutting back on their orders.
“I get it, it’s expensive for them too,” she said, also lamenting the lack of donations of produce in general.
The latter problem, however, is at least partially being solved by a gardening effort from local supporter Talia Hiebert. She planted a vegetable garden just outside the soup kitchen, from which Rose can draw fresh ingredients for meals.
“The soup kitchen doesn’t get many donations of fresh produce. I thought this would be a good way to supplement what comes in,” said Hiebert. “The soup kitchen provides an essential service in the community. Hopefully this supports the hard work Laura is already doing.”
Hiebert said that one of the garden boxes is filled with salad greens that can be harvested and will regrow quickly through the summer, while the other box has vegetables that can be harvested at the end of the season.
“At the end of this growing season we’ll need to talk about what changes need to be made to improve the garden for next summer,” she said.
For now, Rose is extending the hours in which she serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to compensate for temporarily shutting down the food bank.
She said that while she plans to re-open the service in the fall, it will depend on the financial and donation situation at that time.
“Revenue is about the same as last year,” she said. “But the cost of everything is going up and the need is just growing and growing. Everyone is facing the