Within minutes of the doors opening, the Saturday Street Lunch at All Saints Anglican Church is filled with people tucking into plates of home-cooked shepherd’s pie followed by a bowl of vanilla ice cream and hot-from-the-oven fruit ambrosia.
The lunch serves people from all walks of life: some are homeless, others are struggling with mental health challenges or addictions. Still others are simply people struggling to put food on the table.
“The Upper Room Mission rightly closes on the weekend, but that leaves a two-day gap for those in need of food; one of our objectives is to fill the gap,” said coordinator Michael Robinson, adding that last year, the lunch averaged 100 guests per meal. “Our guests who depend on the mission during the week days appreciate a meal served in different surroundings. We also have guests who don’t go to the mission, but who simply enjoy having a meal with their friends and stretching their income a little further. I find that all these reasons make being a part of the Saturday Street Lunch and seeing that it continues, worthwhile.
“Like many, I see the huge discrepancies that exist in our world. Ideally, we should beat our swords into ploughshares to ensure all have enough. In the interim, I try to love my neighbour and do my small bit to redress the balance.”
At All Saints, the lunch began as a program of the Ecumenical Concerns Committee and is one part of community outreach provided by the church.
“The ECC was the original ‘brainwave’ of Vernon’s 2004 Good Citizen of the Year, Lil Olsen, and ladies from Trinity United and Peace Lutheran Churches a number of years ago,” said Robinson.
At the time, soup and sandwiches were prepared and served Saturdays by church volunteers at the Vernon Masonic Hall on 32nd Street, with the participation of volunteers from other local churches, including St. James, Church of God, Seventh-day Adventist, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as Girl Guides, BC Hydro Power Pioneers, Lady Lions, Coldstream Lions and Pleasant Valley secondary school teachers.
After five years, the program moved to the Royal Canadian Legion hall for three months before the owner of Andy’s Added Touch Restaurant offered his facilities, an offer that was gratefully accepted. After two years, another move was necessary, this time to the newly completed basement hall and kitchen of All Saints’ Centennial Hall.
“The past two years has seen our basement kitchen, Dickson Room and the bathrooms put to regular Saturday morning use,” said Robinson. “The participating groups are appointed specific dates and arrange and provide all the food and volunteer personnel. Currently, each group’s turn comes around about every seven to eight weeks.
“The choice of what is to be served is the responsibility of the assigned group. Although soup and two or three various sandwiches, goodies, fruit, coffee, tea and milk and juice are provided, sometimes stew, chili and turkey have been served.”
All Saints currently shares the lunch with a number of different churches and community groups on a rotating basis: Beairsto school’s leadership group, Epicor Software Corporation, HQF, Knox Presbyterian, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Peace Lutheran, Seventh-day Adventist, St. James and Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Churches, St. John’s Lutheran and Kidston school.
“Two wolves seek to devour any non-profit group: one is a lack of funds and the other is a lack of volunteers, but the brilliant structure of the street lunch is that there are a number of groups sharing the load being responsible for their turns throughout the year, and being responsible for finding their own funding and volunteers. Members of All Saints donate to our meals through their church envelopes.”
While the participation of Kidston and Beairsto this winter helped a great deal, Robinson said one of the participating churches dropped out of the program unexpectedly in the fall and he is concerned that by summertime, the lunch will be stretched thin.
“We do need a group or groups willing to take three or possibly more turns per year. We are stretched: our member groups have been totally amazing in their willingness to take extra turns, but even elastic bands only stretch so far!
“And through money from Vernon City Council, a fundraiser and an anonymous individual, we are in the position to give some financial help to a school group or similar who would like to take a turn providing a meal.”