Soup’s On, like many other community organizations, was faced with a conundrum when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, causing the closure of restaurants and other places that provided meals: how to keep operating?
Since January 2009, the volunteer-run operation has been providing hearty, by-donation lunches every Friday at St. Alban’s Church hall in Ashcroft. Martina Duncan, the program’s coordinator, said that it was business as usual until near the end of March, when word came from Bishop Lincoln Mckoen that all the programs running at St. Alban’s had to close down.
“We knew we couldn’t have teams doing soups anymore, although people volunteered to make soups,” says Duncan. Then someone — Duncan isn’t sure who — came up with the idea of giving people a $10 voucher, redeemable at one of the two Ashcroft restaurants that remained open for takeaway meals.
“It seemed like a good idea, so we got it going. We felt it was important to support the local restaurants that were still open, Sam’s Diner and the Central Café. Recently we’ve had UniTea and the Ashcroft Bakery reopen, so they’ve been added to the list, and now there’s Slim Jim’s as well.”
Since the end of March, volunteers have still been at St. Alban’s every Friday, handing out fruit, cookies, and buns — as well as the vouchers — to anyone who arrives. Most of the money to purchase the food and vouchers comes out of the Soup’s On budget, and Duncan says that the Seventh Day Adventist church in Ashcroft paid for three weeks’-worth of items. “They paid for all the things that went into the bags people get, and paid for all the costs of the vouchers.
“We have some people who give regularly to Soup’s On; it comes in through the offering plate [at St. Alban’s]. We also have a donation jar; we haven’t had it out, but we’ve still been getting donations from people.”
Duncan says that the owners of Sam’s and Central thought the voucher idea was a great one, and have sometimes done special $10 lunches for Soup’s On customers.
“The voucher system is kind of a treat to some people. They don’t get out to restaurants much, so it’s an opportunity for them to have a restaurant meal and helps our restaurants stay viable.” After each week’s lunch Duncan goes around to the participating restaurants, collects the vouchers, and pays for them.
She says they’ve been getting more than 20 people per week under the voucher system, down from the 60 or so they would normally see each week at this time of year. While the new system has proved popular, “People want to know when are we going to open again. It’s the congeniality, the visiting, that they really miss, and we miss doing it with them, both the visiting and having them as guests.”
Duncan says that they’re still trying to decide on a reopening date. “We’re slow to move in that direction, because one of the things is the age of the people who volunteer, most of whom are over 60. We don’t have any concrete plans yet, and we have to schedule a meeting with the Soup’s On teams.
“The 12-Step groups have started meeting [at S. Alban’s hall] again, and they have protocols for those. We would have to limit the number of people coming in, where and how they sit, and I can’t make those decisions on my own. We’ll have to make them with the teams that will be hosting the luncheons.”
She says that the Ashcroft Terminal will be paying for the lunches and providing two staff members to help out with the lunch on June 26. “We’re really grateful for that. They approached me about it, and the challenge is out there to any other organization that wants to sponsor a Soup’s On lunch. They can get hold of me.”
Duncan adds that once Soup’s On gets back to normal, the volunteers would happily teach other people what they need to do to help out.
“We’re always looking for people singly or as part of a team, with five to six people on a team depending on their cooking experience. Generally, the people who come forward have a good idea of what happens in a kitchen, so in that case five is fine; if people aren’t used to kitchens and quantities, then it would be six. And some people gravitate to the dish pit, while some make soup. They develop their roles as they go along.”
Any organizations or volunteers who would like to be involved with Soup’s On, or learn more about it, can contact Duncan at (250) 453-2022, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.