Red Deer is losing a long-running soup kitchen that’s also a safe place to hang out for people with no other place to go during the day.
On Monday, Loaves and Fishes announced its last day of operations is June 30 due to a ongoing funding shortfall, but The Mustard Seed, based in Calgary and Edmonton, will be moving in to fill in the void.
Mustard Seed is still determining what programs to offer out of Loaves and Fishes’ facility at 6002 54th Ave. So far it has decided, possibly with a partner, to carry on with Loaves and Fishes’ popular school lunch program that feeds 350 students daily.
Loaves and Fishes executive director Halina Jarvis said she is concerned about the gap in food service between the time Loaves and Fishes shuts down and Mustard Seed opens and where people will go during the day.
“We’re trying to work something out so people aren’t left out in the cold. We are the only drop-in centre in town right now. There’s nobody so I don’t know what these folks are going to do. We’re going to have to put our heads together.”
She said visits climbed when the winter Warming Centre shut down for the season.
“We have a lot of people just come in for coffee. We’re a safe place. They come in to be safe.”
She said clients are asking questions for which there are no answers yet. Staff are also adjusting.
“We’re all kind of walking around dazed. We’ve all been here a long, long time. This has been our life, our passion, our heart. It’s hard on all of us. It will hurt our hearts to leave,” Jarvis said.
Red Deer Food Bank executive director Fred Scaife said it’s very sad to see one of the food bank’s longest term partners close.
“They’ve got such a rich history in the city of helping the really downtrodden. This is a place where some of them have gone for 20 years and all of a sudden it’s going to be different,” Scaife said.
He said it’s going to be traumatic for some clients but Mustard Seed is a wonderful organization, although it’s an unfortunate way to move into the city.
“I think (Mustard Seed) is going to bring some much needed stability. The one thing that people need that we deal with, and Loaves and Fishes deals with, is stability.”
Mustard Seed already operates in big cities and Red Deer does have growing big city problems, Scaife said.
Robert Mitchell, executive director of United Way of Central Alberta, said other provincial charities already operate in Red Deer and Mustard Seed is well recognized and could bring in new programs that really fit here.
Kath Hoffman, executive director of Central Alberta’s Safe Harbour Society for Health and Housing, said it’s been a privilege to stand beside Loaves and Fishes, an organization that has given a lot to many.
“We knew that person in that wheelchair on that winter day could stay at Loaves all day if they had to and you got a cup of kindness when you’re there,” Hoffman said.
Safe Harbour operates People’s Place, a 35-bed homeless shelter, in the basement of Loaves and Fishes which will have to eventually move to a new location as Mustard Seed moves in.
“We know that The Mustard Seed certainly have a reputation of honouring any community they’re in and the people there so we’re not panicking. We know they have a building now and they have important work to do in it and they’re going to want it,” Hoffman said.
Millie Frederick said a few years ago she used to meet up with a group of people quite regularly at Loaves and Fishes.
“We formed strong relationship right here. It was a wonderful place for us,” said Frederick, who was having coffee at Loaves and Fishes on Wednesday afternoon.
“Halina is a God-send and the others who have passed through,” said Frederick, who has trouble cooking because of arthritis in her hands.
Teresa Bjerstedt, who is staying at People’s Place, said a lot of people are concerned where they’re going to eat. Having a soup kitchen and shelter in the same location is convenient. Other meals are served in the downtown.
“It’s a lot of walking when you have to carry a lot of backpacks on your back,” said Bjerstedt, outside Loaves and Fishes.
She hoped Mustard Seed will develop more affordable housing and a program for those who need help saving enough money for damage deposits and rent.
Central Alberta Adventist Community Services Centre currently provides two suppers each week and one brunch every two weeks for those in need.
Attaleen Werner, the centre’s director, said the Adventist community will look at providing at least one more supper, if not more, to help out if required when Loaves and Fishes closes.
Chris Salomons, kitchen co-ordinator at Potter’s Hands Ministries’ soup kitchen, said Potter’s Hands does not have the resources to provide more meals.
“Everything we do is by private donation. We receive no funding from anywhere. We’re stretched. I know for a fact that we can’t handle anymore,” Salomons said.
Potters Hands provides about 1,100 meals a week through its breakfast program that runs six days a week, lunch on Monday and supper on Tuesday, he said.
Like others, Potter’s Hands and the Salvation Army is waiting to see what Mustard Seed will offer in Red Deer.
“The rest of us may have to re-evaluate and see what we can do to try and help the situation. For now, there would be no immediate plans for us to step up to the plate,” said Salvation Army Maj. Larry Bridger.