Environmental Health officers have made their rounds to inspect Whitehorse’s weekend soup kitchen and it appears changes to this 25-year volunteer run program are soon to be imposed.
Since these visits to the CYO Hall commercial kitchen, the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition has heard from numerous concerned citizens about the impact of these inspections.
It seems dedicated volunteers will no longer be able to prepare food at home and bring it to serve during soup kitchen. The imposed change to the soup kitchens’ service has resulted in confusion and a sense of helplessness across the community.
Many of us know the detrimental impact that these changes will have on the community’s most vulnerable. Barriers to donating means less giving, and in turn a decrease in resources for those in need.
The volunteer-driven soup kitchens have been running every weekend for years. In 2015, the number of Yukon residents using the meal program rose, with 85 or more plates served on both Saturdays and Sunday throughout the year. This trend coincides with increased use of meal programs throughout the week.
In other words, people are hungry and these meals have become essential services for individuals and families.
The YAPC contacted a representative from Health & Social Services to learn more about the visits from Environmental Health. The representative responded that H&SS; has no desire to interrupt service. However, if they are to provide a permit to a commercial kitchen it has to be operated in a certain way.
The concern from Environmental Health is that personal kitchens are not inspected, and so there can be no guarantee that food prepped elsewhere is safe. Worthy of note, there has never been a single recorded illness reported from meal program or soup kitchen food in Whitehorse.
The YAPC is not in a position to argue about the role of Environmental Health or that food safety should not be a part of the conversation when offering meal programs. What we do want to highlight is the serious impact that these decisions have on our communities. When enforced, regulations like those imposed by Environmental Health officers inadvertently hinder community-based solutions to systemic problems like food insecurity. They force us to respond reactively as opposed to proactively and leave us second-guessing ourselves as volunteers and giving members of society.
So, how do we balance community giving with statutory regulations? Do the two have to be mutually exclusive? The YAPC believes that a more transparent and collaborative approach is essential to moving the needle on hunger in our community. In the case of our soup kitchens, we risk more harm than good if we react out of fear than out of a collective desire to support those who have no choice but to trust that a culture of giving and sharing will continue to hold them through their time of need, however long that may be.
The YAPC welcomes your thoughts and contributions to an urgent and much needed solution-oriented conversation. Volunteers and Sacred Heart Cathedral are working with Environmental Health and we look forward to a community response to this issue. We are in desperate need of a unified approach that increases individual and community health and that upholds the spirit of volunteerism. Most importantly, we need to act in ways that put the community’s most marginalized first.
Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition