It certainly takes a generous community to support City-based mission Loaves and Fishes, where staff members and loyal volunteers are gearing up for the busy fall and winter season.
And in the middle of tough economic times, the needs are growing. Staff say more people are approaching Loaves and Fishes for assistance both with meals and also in finding the support they need within the community.
Covering expenses can be a challenge, particularly the ongoing operational costs of running the organization, said Executive Director Halina Jarvis. Those donated dollars for that purpose – along with the food donations of course – are particularly critical.
“You can’t serve the food or prepare it if you can’t run the facility,” she said. To that end, meetings with local politicians have been held in efforts to help secure some government funding that would be a huge help in helping with the day-to-day expenses. In the meantime, it’s about reaching more folks out there who might be willing to lend a helping hand.
“For the local agencies, it’s about finding the people who are passionate about what you are passionate about. Everybody has a passion – everybody has something that is close to their heart.”
Meanwhile, this season marks a challenging financial time as funds raised over the last busy Christmas season are essentially running out, and the spike in donations that start flowing with the coming holiday season haven’t really started to kick in yet. “We are doing it – we are meeting our obligations and paying our bills and our staff,” she said.
To that end, staff have planned a chili cook-off on Oct. 17th at 5 p.m. to spur some fundraising.
The competition has welcomed local radio personalities and business leaders in a culinary battle to win ‘The Deadliest Chili Ever’. There will be prizes for participants and door prize draws as well as an exciting silent auction of items donated by local artisans. Judging the competition will be members of Red Deer City council and local politicians as well.
Tickets are $5 at the door and that includes chili and a bun with a beverage. The gallons of chili made for the event will provide a hot dinner for more than 200 hungry people the very next day at Loaves and Fishes.
“I think there is a great show of support for Loaves and Fishes in the community from individuals, churches, donors and businesses that contribute,” said Claudine Fleury, fundraising coordinator at Loaves and Fishes.
“There are also the people that come to host our dinners on a regular basis – we are very appreciative of that as well.”
Founded in 1999, the Loaves and Fishes Benevolent Society is an independent charitable organization that offers hot, nutritious meals and food stuffs and an array of community programs and services.
“Our assistance is as diverse as the people who come to us for help,” reads part of their mandate. “We serve the disadvantaged, marginalized and challenged people in our communities in Red Deer and surrounding areas, a population base of more than 100,000 people in Red Deer and over 250,000 in Central Alberta.”
Loaves and Fishes also solely relies on community support – they receive no government funding.
The organization also provides more than 27,000 hot nutritious meals each year, fully prepared and served up by volunteers. They also make, pack and deliver an average of 33,500 school lunches annually for the School Lunch Program.
There is also, as mentioned, the outreach program which helps those in crisis by providing referrals to local agencies.
“We are often a ‘first stop’ for new arrivals in the City and offer friendship and fellowship to those who are scared, lonely and at a loss for where to begin their new lives. We help teach people skills that can help them create positive forward movement in their lives.”
The level of need is something that can almost be overwhelming at times, but there is a consistent grace to manage.
And while winter may seem a ways off, plans for the Christmas season are of course well underway.
Several companies sign up to sponsor and host Christmas dinners throughout December at Loaves and Fishes. More local businesses are encouraged to host dinners as well. Jarvis said although the companies pay for the food and can opt to prepare it themselves, staff and volunteers at Loaves and Fishes are more than happy to cover the preparations as well.
At the end of the day, it’s about reaching out. As Jarvis pointed out, there are all kinds of reasons why people find themselves in desperate situations. Issues can range from mental health issues to sudden job loss to abrupt family changes. Many people aren’t as far away from being on the street as they might think as well. “Who doesn’t get into a crisis? And what if you get into a crisis you can’t handle? If you don’t have family or friends’ support, then now what?”
It boils down to an open door policy. Jarvis said many folks keep in touch after being helped by Loaves and Fishes, and many locals consistently check in for visits now and then. “Our heart is to help people.”
Fleury agreed. “We are helping challenged lives transform into successful and productive ones through mentorship,” she said. “It sometimes means taking someone by the hand who is lonely and afraid and leading them through to a more secure and stable place.
“(Being here) reminds you that there is hope for humanity. There is a family feel here at Loaves and Fishes, and I think it’s a place that tears down barriers when it comes to loneliness and isolation.”
Some of the volunteers come onboard to tap into that rich sense of family and security as well. “So the clients and volunteers are helping each other in different ways.”
For more about Loaves and Fishes, check out www.reddeerloavesandfishes.com. To learn more about volunteering or sponsorship opportunities, call 403-347-1844.