Growing up in London, Ontario and working several part-time jobs in the downtown area, I would often see homeless people asking for money on the streets. I would often give them a dollar or two, but I never really saw the problem for what it was. I mainly saw a blank face, someone simply asking for money and someone who definitely could use the dollar more than me. While throwing money at the problem might help temporarily, it doesn’t make it go away entirely, and it definitely didn’t make me recognize the person as something other than another blank face.
I’ve spent the last three years at this campus seeing people like this downtown. To be honest, after awhile, I feel as though I have grown desensitized to their problems.
In November of 1999, Brantford’s St. Andrew’s United Church launched “Soup for the Soul,” a program aimed at helping people in need by providing them with a free meal every Monday and Thursday. The program, still running today, serves youth, seniors, people with physical and mental impairment, the unemployed, individuals and families marginalized by financial difficulties, and homeless and transient people. The church also created a “Soup for the Soul Children’s Program” that offers crafts, stories, social interaction, and homework help for children that need it.
Even before hearing of this program, I was aware that there was a population in Brantford that couldn’t always financially support themselves. What I wasn’t aware of, however, was the sheer number of people that direly need this help.
The Soup for the Soul program serves 120 to 180 individuals at each meal in the basement of St. Andrew’s Church. The program is held in the exact same room where I and many other students have previously attended our university classes. While we were spending thousands of dollars obtaining a university degree in this room, people were in there twice a week with the sole purpose of simply filling their stomachs with a hot meal.
While I have recently educated myself with the goings-on of the Soup for the Soul program, I find it strange that I have been on this campus for nearly three years before finding out about it. Similarly, after asking several friends if they were aware of the program, not one of them had any idea what I was talking about.
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the program’s Community Resource Advocate, Lisa Nydam, to discuss the lack of awareness about the program. While Soup for the Soul serves 120-180 patrons each day it runs, there may be less volunteers than needed.
Currently, the City of Brantford provides funding in the form of approximately $26,000 a year, since the program fulfills the city’s homeless and poverty initiatives. The rest of the money needed comes from the congregation of St. Andrew’s United Church and personal fundraising.
While the food program is running successfully now, Nydam explained that they are expanding the program into more of a “wraparound care” that provides personal counseling and employment search. After hearing about this, I couldn’t help but wonder how many more volunteers and funding the church may need in order to continue its successful expansion.
As students at Laurier Brantford, we are often focused on our own lives, worrying about our grades and our university relationships. While this is perfectly normal, it could be refreshing and ultimately rewarding to think about someone else for a change. If you know you are able to donate a little money to the program, do so. University students are probably the people most in debt that I know, so if you can’t donate the money, donate the time. The program accepts students as volunteers, and all it takes is a police check and a few hours of work a week.
While I myself have not yet participated as a volunteer, I do plan to (police check currently pending) and I suggest that you do so as well. We can’t walk around forever pretending as though these people in need don’t exist. Eventually these blank faces will be memorable.