The cupboards are full but the bank account is bare this year, and that is a concern for the Bread of Life.
“We’re high on donations of food, low on financial donations,” said Stacie Camponi, outgoing coordinator at the facility on Third Avenue in south Port Alberni.
The soup kitchen usually receives enough cash donations in November and December to carry them through the rest of the year. Right now they only have $10,000 in the bank, where they would normally have $15,000 or more.
“We’re two-thirds behind where we need to be,” said new board member Dennis Dalla-Vicenza.
The Port Alberni Toy Run donated $1,000 last week, the BOL’s annual Harvest Dinner raised another $2,000 and various individual donations totalling around $1,000 have also come in recently.
While there are no pressing capital projects aside from the kitchen exhaust fan that needs to be replaced, there are still fixed costs, said Dalla-Vicenza.
“If we don’t come up with $30,000 we don’t know what we’re going to do.”
Darlene Crossley, who has operated Cornerstones second-hand store—attached to the Bread of Life—for the past seven years, said she hasn’t seen donations so low. “If we don’t get the donations we need the soup kitchen will have to shut down. We run by the good graces of Port Alberni,” she said, adding she has faith in the community.
“They always get things going. This is an amazing town.”
Camponi said in the past eight months with the Bread of Life she has seen a decline in support, especially from some of the churches, which originally started the soup kitchen 30 years ago.
“A lot of churches have been re-pastored. They were the ones that started the Bread of Life and a lot of them used to support us more.”
There are more agencies that are distributing food in various ways in the Alberni Valley too, she added. The Bread of Life doesn’t distribute food hampers at any time of the year because other organizations, such as Ku-uus Crisis Line Society and the Salvation Army with its food bank already provide that service. The Knights of Columbus and St. Vincent de Paul also have food services.
“i think all the food organizations need to band together and say ‘how are we best going to feed people in the Valley’,” she said.
It costs an estimated $5 per patron per meal to feed the people who use the Bread of Life’s services, Dalla-Vicenza said. There are three paid staff members: Crossley at Cornerstones, cook Ken Dore and the coordinator. An average of 10 volunteers help prepare and serve each meal, and make sure things are cleaned up afterward.
The Bread of Life saw an average of 65 patrons at each meal in October. Those numbers went as high as 130 on the days that temperatures dipped below zero. There are about 25 who show up for cold breakfast every day (cereal, yogurt, doughnuts, etc.).
Years ago, the Bread of Life also offered dinner on Tuesday nights, but that service had to be cut, so many patrons go without dinner.
Many of those patrons, like Tim Jones—who organizes volunteers at the Bread of Life—are longtime patrons.
Jones has spent 19 years eating hot meals at the Bread of Life. He looks after the coffee station and cleans up as way of payment for his meal.
“One of the reasons I volunteer here is it’s my way of paying back,” he said.
Other patrons also volunteer or donate bits of cash throughout the year as they have it, and that adds up.
When school is out, the soup kitchen sees more teenagers, especially in the morning because the breakfast programs at school aren’t available to them in the summer.
The Bread of Life is not just about food, says Jones. “most of the people here are all regulars,” including a few who have been coming as long as he has, he said.
“People need a place to go and enjoy each other’s company.”
The Bread of Life is also looking for a new coordinator, after Camponi announced she will be leaving at the end of November to return to school.
“I’m going to go on and pursue further education for myself,” she said, adding she will stay in the Alberni Valley and take the Diploma of Human Services program at North Island College.
She still intends to volunteer with the Bread of Life.
Food bags accepted at QF
Quality Foods regularly runs a food drive for the Bread of Life. There is a drop box near the cash registers for people to donate bags of groceries and individual non-perishable items.