With the holidays in swing, churches and TV ads alike point our eyes towards those less fortunate and how we can help. There’s tons of different ways to get involved, some of the most common are through monetary donations, giving to food banks, toy drives and helping out at local soup kitchens.
St. Andrew’s United Church has been running a community soup kitchen for nearly 30 years out of its basement. They give out food to anyone that shows up without discrimination twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays. It does not matter to the staff and volunteers that run the kitchen whether it’s a holiday or not, they are there for those that come to them in need.
“We get families, we get elders, we get teens, university students will come, it’s their first year out on their own right?” said the head of the kitchen Tania Topolinsky. “We get anywhere from assistance to disability to struggling working families, and mental health, some people just come for company.”
It might be something we must never think about, but these kitchens do not just give out soup. The night when this interview was held they had a fajita casserole with cookies and salad.
“We do a lot of casseroles” said Topolinsky. “We try to be creative, changing our casseroles up so that it’s not the same thing but we do a lot of casseroles, we do chilli’s, soups in the winter, wraps in the summer. When we say wrap it’s not like a little wrap that you’d make at home it’s a monster wrap with nice, homemade potato salad, and we try to make as many homemade desserts as we can.”
The bulk of the kitchen staff working at St Andrew’s is volunteers, with only two of the cooks being employed by the church. During the winter months they get a lot of university students helping out, but once the winter leaves, so does their help. “In the summer we struggle a lot with volunteers,” said Topolinsky, “sometimes it’s only two to three people here during the day, two to three people here during the evening.”
“When I first moved to Brantford,” said Marg James, a volunteer in the kitchen, “I was a single mom raising kids, then I was a single grandma raising grandkids, and it was just was to go out and help with the income, you know help budget. I had a hard time trying to make ends meet. I’ve always volunteered, I started volunteering when I was ten so it’s just part of me.”
“I think everywhere needs this, everywhere needs programs like this to run,” said Topolinsky. “There’s people in here that are here for family, it’s like a Christmas dinner every day. You go to a big family reunion and there’s fighting, there’s laughing, there’s arguing, there’s bickering, there’s hugging, and that’s what it is. Every single meal day there is something, and we all know how everyone reacts to each other now and it’s taken me a while but you know who when they walk in the door if they’re happy or if they’re sad.”
The City of Brantford has a full list of when various soup kitchens in the city hold meals, as well as where they are, on their website online.