Rainbow soup kitchen move stirs up concerns

Move to Esquimalt comes with some unanswered questions

The Victoria Rainbow Kitchen Society moved from its Vic West Home into Wheeley Hall at Esquimalt United Church last week. Al Lindskoog

The Victoria Rainbow Kitchen Society moved from its Vic West Home into Wheeley Hall at Esquimalt United Church last week. Al Lindskoog

A soup kitchen that feeds about 125 needy people a day is setting up in Esquimalt amid concerns raised by residents.

“We support the concept but we want to make sure our community stays safe,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins.

Questions and concerns began circulating after the Victoria Rainbow Kitchen Society announced it was relocating to the Esquimalt United Church’s hall on Lyall Street. It moved in last week, and hopes to serve its inaugural meal in another month.

Kitchen volunteers served their last lunch at St. Saviour’s parish hall in Vic West on Dec. 23, after 10 years. The move was necessary after the Anglican Diocese of B.C. said it had a buyer for the property at 310 Henry St.

But some Esquimalt residents started asking questions about who will be coming to the residential neighbourhood to eat the free noon meal, Monday to Friday.

When it was in Vic West, the kitchen drew downtown Victoria street people, as well as the working poor, families and seniors, many from Vic West and Esquimalt.

“Does it encourage other behaviour? Does it draw a certain element of clientele that would not be good for the neighbourhood?” Desjardins said of questions asked by residents.

“Let’s face it, people are always leery of this kind of thing coming into their community,” she said. “That’s why I wanted to be proactive and talk to our police.”

Officers at the Victoria Police Department’s West Division in Esquimalt have been advised the kitchen will be operating in the same building where the Appletree Preschool operates two mornings a week.

Safety precautions are being taken to keep kitchen patrons and preschool children apart, in keeping with the Vancouver Island Health Authority’s care facility licensing rules.

“Our children are a vulnerable sector of the society so we want to make sure there’s absolutely no issues there,” said Insp. Keith Lindner, head of the West Division. “What’s the motto? Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.”

While residents’ concerns are not unexpected, the reaction saddens Al Lindskoog, a Rainbow Kitchen director.

“That’s just kind of the way society is, that good things are great when they happen somewhere else, but not in my backyard,” he said.

The soup kitchen is a welcome tenant at Esquimalt United Church, which also hosted a community lunch program more than a decade ago, said Marjory Acton, chair of the church board. The society will be renting the facility for an undisclosed sum.

There were no complaints then, said Acton, who hopes the recent bevy of concerns will be put to rest once the kitchen opens.

If street people come for lunch, it’s important to remember “they could be our brothers, our kids,” she said. “Come and volunteer and get to know the people.”