After having to change their format and operations over the past 16 months because of the pandemic, Soup’s On has returned to in-person lunches at St. Alban’s church hall in Ashcroft every Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
When pandemic restrictions in spring 2021 meant that sit-down lunches could not longer be offered, the organizers pivoted to a voucher model. Anyone who came for lunch was given fruit and buns, as well as a $10 voucher redeemable for a meal at any of five participating Ashcroft restaurants.
“The restaurants have been so supportive for the last year-and-a-half,” says Soup’s On organizer Martina Duncan. “The vouchers helped them so much, and we’re grateful that they stepped up and honoured them. They would do things like make specials for the vouchers, so we’re really thankful for that, but when Dr. Henry said things could open up again we decided it was time.”
She adds that throughout the pandemic, guests would ask almost every week when they would be re-opening.
“People wanted the social piece of it, the gathering together. It’s a community connections program, not just a soup program. People sit together and visit, as well as have a good healthy meal.”
The program returned to normal service on July 9. On July 23 members of United Steelworkers #7619 from Highland Valley were there to prepare lunch, serve it, and clean up after, as well as donate the food. “It was great having them there,” says Duncan. “They generally come once every summer.”
She estimates that between 50 and 60 came by for lunch on July 23. “Numbers have been a bit lower, but they generally go down a bit in summer, when people are on vacation. And it could be to do with the the fires and smoke and evacuations. Word will get out, and people will return.”
Duncan adds that guests will see few differences to the program. There were already protocols in place that were followed even before the pandemic, such as cleaning up after someone has been there. Items not being served for lunch are sometimes donated for people to help themselves to — on July 23 it was two boxes of fresh apricots — and these are put in a separate area from the items being served for lunch.
Soup’s On is always in need of more volunteers to help prepare and serve lunches, especially with the long shutdown of regular service.
“We’re still trying to put together teams. That’s the one piece that hasn’t come together quite so readily as the rest of it,” says Duncan. “People have aged out, or other things have taken a priority in their life, so I don’t have everyone I used to have on the teams.”
The ideal number for a team is six, if people are experienced in the kitchen. “If they’re learners we have a few extra. There’s a training process. We don’t just say ‘Here you go;’ you get the lay of the land and see how things work. And even if people can’t help with serving, they can make soup or desserts. We’re very grateful for that.”
With the switch back to the original model, there is also a certain amount of adjusting to be done. “Ashcroft Terminal has been great all the way through during the pandemic, handing out vouchers and fruit. Now it’s a learning process for them about how to do it differently.”
Duncan says anyone interested in volunteering, or learning more, can call her at (250) 453-2022.
“Now we need more people to come forward to be teams, and our hope is to get enough teams to be on a rotation every six weeks, because we don’t want to burn anybody out.
“We’re just really happy to be open again. It’s a great experience and lots of fun.”