NDP MLA Jan Stick, a longtime soup kitchen volunteer, reflected on the beginning days of the kitchen and how far it has come over the years. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)

Weekend Soup Kitchen ends after 25 years of feeding Whitehorse’s needy

Salvation Army’s new Centre of Hope fulfills the need for weekend meals, says volunteer coordinator

Whitehorse’s Weekend Soup Kitchen will soon be serving its last supper.

After more than 25 years of providing food on weekends for the city’s needy, the volunteer-run initiative, based out of CYO Hall in Sacred Heart Cathedral, will be offering one final round of meals this Sunday, Nov. 12, said volunteer coordinator Philip Gibson.

“We started 25 years ago or so to serve on the weekends because the Salvation Army was unable to do that,” Gibson explained. “They could only offer (meals) five days a week.… Now that the Centre of Hope is open, they’re offering a hot meal three times a day, seven days a week, so we don’t wish to duplicate what the Salvation Army is offering. That’s why we’re closing.”

According to a press release about the closing, the soup kitchen has prepared and served more than 125,000 “nutritious meals” with the help of “hundreds” of volunteers over the years.

Even though talk about ending the program has been in the works since the Salvation Army announced it would be opening a new building, Gibson, who’s been volunteering with the soup kitchen for 15 years, said the moment was still a little bittersweet.

“Certainly, I feel a bit of a shock even though we knew that this was coming,” he said, but added that it was a “good thing” that the Centre of Hope has the capacity and resources to serve meals every day of the week now.

The closing of the soup kitchen is unrelated to the controversy in 2016 where territorial government inspectors told volunteers they could not serve homemade food and that meals needed to be prepared in a commercial kitchen.

The brainchild of Rose Byrnes, the soup kitchen began in February 1992 after Byrnes approached Sacred Heart Cathedral’s social justice committee with concerns that, due to financial and staffing issues, the Salvation Army would only be serving food on weekdays. She proposed a project for Lent where Sacred Heart’s parish community would offer a meal to anyone in need on weekends in the seven weeks leading up to Easter, according to the press release.

Longtime volunteer and former NDP MLA Jan Stick said Byrnes, who has since died, was the “driving force” behind not only starting the soup kitchen but keeping it going going.

“I remember, that summer … (the soup kitchen) started in the winter, went all winter and then came summer, and people were like, ‘Woah, wow, that was a good job, we’re kind of done now,’” Stick recalled. “It was like, ‘What? Just because the weather turns nice, people aren’t hungry?’ And Rose says, ‘Oh no, no, no, this is not just a winter thing. This a year-round thing.’ And people came to depend on that and for a lot of people it was a real social thing, many of the guests that came. That was their chance to sit down and share a meal with friends or family or their kids.”

Stick, who originally began volunteering on her own, then with her church and eventually the NDP office, said she’s seen the need for free hot meals grow enormously over the years.

“When we started, 30 was a big crowd … And now it’s a big commitment… today, it wouldn’t be uncommon for there to be 100 or more meals served on a Saturday or a Sunday, year-round,” Stick said.

Hamburger soup, Stick added, has always been a favourite, especially when made with moose.

With one final weekend in view, Gibson said he was thankful for all the volunteers who helped to keep the soup kitchen going over the years. They came from all parts of the Whitehorse community, he said, including groups from various churches, two high schools, the Whitehorse Rotary Club, the Whitehorse Lions and the Knights of Columbus.

He’s already passed on the contact information of the Salvation Army’s volunteer coordinator to several volunteer group chiefs, and added that some volunteers may be interested in starting another food initiative, should they identify an unmet need, “sometime in the new year.”

“Once a crew started to volunteer, we have very little turnover,” Gibson said. “They stay for years and years, so these people are committed. I’m sure they’ll all find good things to do with their time, with their volunteer energy.”

There’s nothing special planned for Sunday’s final offering, he added.

“It will be a regular meal.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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