Loaves and Fishes will cease to operate in Red Deer come July 1 due to an ongoing funding shortfall and The Mustard Seed is moving in to replace the work of the faith-based charity.
Loaves and Fishes is transferring its assets and facilities, including the soup kitchen at 6002 54th Ave., to The Mustard Seed, a Christian charity that has operated in Calgary and Edmonton for over 30 years to help those living in poverty and the homeless.
Loaves and Fishes Benevolent Society has operated in Red Deer for more than 20 years to provide meals at its soup kitchen, a popular school lunch for students, and outreach and pastoral services for clients.
The basement of its building is rented by Central Alberta’s Safe Harbour Society for Health and Housing where it runs People’s Place, a 35-bed overnight shelter for the homeless.
On May 19, Loaves and Fishes board of directors made the decision to shut down on June 30 after its annual $285,000 budget came up short again this year by $25,000 to $30,000.
The majority of its support comes from individuals, a few organizations and fundraisers.
Bill Mearns, Loaves and Fishes board chair, said for the last two or three years its been difficult to access grants.
“We’re extremely disappointed. We’ve been fortunate to have a long run and it was developed to help the people who are most needy. We’ve done that and we’re encouraged to think that’s going to continue,” Mearns said on Monday.
“The Seed is in a very good position to improve and upgrade what we’ve been doing and they have a reputation that people understand and know.”
Mearns said Loaves and Fishes is continuing operations until the end of June to prevent any impact on the school lunch program which feeds 350 students each school day.
Stephen Wile, chief executive officer of The Mustard Seed, said the school lunch program will carry on.
“Whether or not we partner with somebody to do this, we feel very strongly the lunch program is meeting a need that’s not being met any other way. We’re certainly going to continue that come September,” Wile said.
Safe Harbour has been given notice to move People’s Place by June 30.
Wile, who is meeting with Safe Harbour on Tuesday, said Safe Harbour will be allowed to remain on site until a new location is found.
“We certainly want to honour (Safe Harbour) and recognize that they’re doing essential service in Red Deer. We’re going to try to be really sensitive to them and their needs as we move forward, but I don’t want to guarantee that space is going to be available because we don’t know what the best use of that building is going to be in the future.”
Wile said Mustard Seed will do a needs assessment and will look to fill in gaps in services.
In Calgary, the organization runs an emergency homeless shelter for 370 people a night and has 300 supportive apartments units. In Edmonton. It has a drop-in centre that serves a hot supper to 325 people each night and 20 apartment units.
As advocates for the homeless, Mustard Seed staff work with people on the issues of employment, health and mental health and addictions support.
Wile said 60 per cent of operational funding for Mustard Seed comes from individual donors, about 30 per cent come from government contracts, and about 10 from rents or leases.
Loaves and Fishes currently serves lunch to about 200 people a day, three times a week, at its soup kitchen and also operates a housing program for about six people addressing addictions.
Mearns said the 14 staff members at Loaves and Fishes will be able to apply for jobs with Mustard Seed and he thanked the many volunteers who have helped through the years.