Salvation Army Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre cook Richard Thatcher

Salvation Army Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre cook Richard Thatcher

Downtown Victoria service provider sees the end of an era

"Kitchen" Bill Harding developed working relationships with many other charity food service organizations

In a steamy dining hall in the Salvation Army’s Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre at the foot of Johnson Street, a lunch crowd has gathered.

It’s not the usual group of down-on-their-luck individuals and street folks anxious to get a hot meal and share some conversation.

Staff and invited guests are here to salute Bill Harding – better known as “Kitchen Bill” – who retires Friday (July 26) after more than 20 years as food services manager.

On one side of the room, a series of ice cream cakes, illustrate Harding’s passions: a canoe – he builds boats out of cedar and canvas – his dog, cut firewood and a fifth-wheel trailer. They spell out a melting message, “Celebrating your accomplishment; always remember the difference you made in those of our lives you’ve touched; we already miss you.”

“It’s an amazing place to work,” said Harding, 64. “I’m going to miss the people; the staff and clients. You get such a cool relationship with people and the work is such an uplifting experience.”

One of the favourite parts of his job, he says, was “giving stuff away all the time.”

That came either through providing hot meals to those people who couldn’t otherwise afford it, or by passing on surplus donations to other community kitchens and food distributors such as Saint Vincent de Paul, Rainbow Kitchen, Our Place,  the Mustard Seed and others.

New Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre executive director Maj. Kathie Chiu told the crowd of a conversation she had with a fellow staffer before coming on board.

“They told me, ‘you’ve got to meet Kitchen Bill,’” said Chiu, who went on to praise Harding for the relationships he forged around the community. “He has got donations coming in from all over.”

Harding’s replacement, Kirk Fremont, 42, has been learning the ARC ropes for the past few weeks.

He worked as a chef at the upscale Il Terrazzo restaurant across Waddington Alley from the ARC on and off for 15 years, but wasn’t aware the building contained a full commercial kitchen. “It’s amazing how much we actually do here,” he said.

“Sixty to 70 per cent of the food donated to us goes to other groups. This is a pretty neat thing to take over.”

Surrey native Harding ran an executive “camp” for Alcan near Kitimat for 14 years and worked for Delta Hotels before coming to Victoria with wife, Noni, in 1993 to take the ARC job.

Married for 43 years, the couple plan to do some cross-country travels with their truck and fifth wheel trailer, Harding said.

The last word on Harding and his presence at this busy service provider belongs to Salvation Army communications officer Kyla Ferns.

“The heart of a home is the kitchen,” she said. “The ARC is one big house and Bill’s got a big heart.”

For more information on Salvation Army programs or how to donate, visit salvationarmy.ca/britishcolumbia or call 250-384-3396.

ddescoteau@vicnews.com