Volunteers from the No More Tears West Nipissing group spent their lunchtime giving out food to the needy on Wednesday, July 12th. The group held its first soup kitchen in the parish hall at Our Lady of Sorrows church on John Street, downtown Sturgeon Falls. It was open to anyone in need of some food for the day, be they homeless or simply unable to afford food. The group is set to return on July 26th, and the initiative is currently planned for every other Wednesday until September 27th. “We’re doing takeout until that point. Our hope after that is to have a sit-down meal in here,” says Maureen Millard, a volunteer with the No More Tears group, and lead on the soup kitchen project.
No More Tears has been active on Facebook since mid-February. Since then, they have grown significantly, and now boast more than 400 members. The group has always focused on helping the homeless in West Nipissing through various volunteer initiatives, with the soup kitchen being their latest. Their ultimate goal is to help create a homeless shelter in the community. “Considering we’ve only been going for 5 months it’s been a rough go, but we’re getting there. We’re getting more interest because people are seeing that we’re legit,” says Millard, who has been a member since March.
Millard hasn’t only helped get the soup kitchen going, she’s also the lead on the Faye Langille Memorial Garden project. The garden was a logical first step towards the soup kitchen. She hopes this community garden will eventually supplement the soup kitchen while also allowing the volunteers to donate fresh produce to people and organizations that need it. Millard gave up part of her property as space for the garden and named it in honour of her mother who also worked to help the homeless in North Bay for 20 years. The project began in early April, and Millard says that all seeds were finally planted by early June.
According to the volunteers at the soup kitchen, community support has been overwhelming. They estimate that holding the soup kitchen has a cost of roughly $200 to $300, but nearly all of it is mitigated by donations, including the use of the church’s space. That’s a big help considering that any additional expenses would have to be covered out of the volunteers’ pockets. “Generally speaking, in this community, everyone treats everyone with respect. I’ve seen that with the outpour of compliments and donations for this, so we are a community that cares deeply,” says Millard of that support.
She is thankful both as a volunteer and as a person who has experienced homelessness herself. “What drove me, I want to do more in the community, but I’ve also been homeless twice in my life,” Millard explains, adding that she was also a member of her mother’s volunteer group in North Bay. Unfortunately, that group folded when her mother passed away.
The first ever soup kitchen did not have a huge turnout, but the group is expecting word of mouth to spread and each one to grow. Volunteers served around 15 clients who dropped in for takeout from 11:30 am until 1 pm. “After we closed everything down, we took the food to one of the larger encampments in town,” adds Millard, which she estimates made for another 10 to 15 clients. No More Tears will continue to hold bi-weekly soup kitchens, as they are convinced the demand is there.
Currently, they are strictly doing takeout, with the soup being given out in heat-proof foam containers, along with plastic bagged sandwiches. They hope that as time goes on, the soup kitchen will gain in popularity, and they will start to see people come and sit down together for their meal. However, the idea of doing takeout for now is to encourage people to come and meet the volunteers and get to know each other. “Seeing a new face, for someone who’s homeless, is scary because they don’t know what to expect,” explains Millard.
Volunteers also point out that they are holding the soup kitchen on the opposite Wednesdays as the food bank distribution days. “It’s not just the homeless, we want to get the families in need. Some people can only afford to pay rent and they can’t afford to buy food,” one explains, adding that the soup kitchen is here to feed anyone who is in dire straits when it comes to food security, “especially if there’s kids involved.”
Being a new group, No More Tears West Nipissing will have plenty of challenges to face, but they are hitting the ground running with regards to their plans and projects to help those in need in the community. In relatively short time, they’ve gotten a community garden and a soup kitchen off the ground, not to mention family circle and outreach projects. Time will tell what else is in the works, and if they’ll reach their goal of having a shelter in West Nipissing. So far, they seem to have momentum, but for that to continue they know they need more support. They encourage people to join the group on Facebook, or to contact them at email@example.com for anyone interested in helping.