A very thankful Ken Oswald bustles about the church hall, helping fill empty bellies with a free hearty meal and lifting the spirits of people who have fallen on hard times.
Two years ago, he was one of the 120 people who lineup daily, Monday to Friday, for the Rainbow Kitchen’s home-cooked lunch in the St. Saviour parish hall in Vic West.
Attendance will likely swell to 200 on Thanksgiving Monday (beginning at noon), given its reputation as the only place that consistently provides lunch to people in need on statutory holidays. (Victoria businessman Gordy Dodd will also host his annual dinner on Monday at 650 Garbally Rd., beginning at 5 p.m.)
Oswald quickly learned he could check his troubles at the kitchen door, though it was difficult.
“I used to have a job, a wife. I lost it all,” says the Victoria resident, who struggled with addiction.
After six months of coming for lunch, Oswald decided to join the volunteers.
“Next thing you know I’ve got an apron on,” says the trained chef, adding that his outlook on life improved in the safe and positive environment.
“It’s amazing how much you can change,” he says. “It can give a person some of their self-worth back.
“When I first got here I was really feeling sorry for myself,” says Oswald. “Now I’m optimistic. It gives me a feeling of purpose.”
His story is all too familiar to Walter Adams, who started volunteering at the kitchen seven years ago when it was providing soup and sandwiches one day a week.
Adams is always touched by how thankful people are when they come for a meal, so much so that they often try to return the favour.
“If I’m short a dishwasher or two, I just announce it (in the hall) and I get four,” he says. “It’s a good feeling. It’s a better feeling when they come and give you a big hug and say, ‘It’s the best food in town.’”
The 100 volunteers are likewise thankful the kitchen kept going after St. Saviour’s Anglican Church was closed in March 2010.
The Victoria Rainbow Kitchen Society was quickly organized, and the team has generated an ambitious list of fundraising and programming ideas to give the operation a more secure future.
Funding is always difficult to come by, and what they do get – they operate on a $3,000 monthly budget – pays for the hall’s heating, electricity and utility bills, as well as cleaning, garbage and recycling services. The Anglican Diocese of B.C. does not collect rent for use of the 95-seat hall, but the society has been looking for another space just in case the diocese decides to sell or renovate and rent the facility to a different tenant.
The society is considering offering a sixth lunch on Saturdays, given the enormous need for a community kitchen on the west side of the Blue Bridge, which attracts street people, impoverished seniors and struggling families from Esquimalt and Victoria.
“In three years we’ll be offering meals seven days a week, and probably feeding 150 a day,” says Adams.
They also want to offer crafts and artisan mentoring and training, additional group and individual counselling, worship services for different faiths, a music program and frequent visits from a public health nurse.
“I think it’s extremely ambitious,” Garth Walmsley, society president, says as guests filter in for the noon meal. “You either go for it or be at the whim of the diocese and struggle.”
Their very existence is a credit to the generous community support they receive.
“Over the last couple of years when St. Saviour’s closed, there were all these problems, but every day the meal comes out,” says Walmsley. “It’s kind of a magical thing.”
The operation has been able to keep going thanks to food and cash donations from several businesses, individuals and organizations. And various church parishes and social service groups take turns cooking and serving meals.
As important as the food is, the Rainbow Kitchen volunteers provide companionship in the form of a song, a pat on the back, a smile and conversation.
“(Guests) may come for a meal, but they stay for the sense of community,” says Adams. “It’s a godsend to a lot of people. We have people here who come who don’t have anyone at all.”
The Rainbow Kitchen is located at 310 Henry St. To donate or volunteer, please call 250-384-2069, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and for details please visit www.rainbowkitchen.ca.