DISH UP- Volunteers serve food recently at Loaves and Fishes in Red Deer. The soup kitchen provides hot meals

DISH UP- Volunteers serve food recently at Loaves and Fishes in Red Deer. The soup kitchen provides hot meals

Loaves and Fishes ‘scrambling’ to meet local needs

As local residents gear up for the holiday season, preparing for celebrations and family events, a care agency that provides critical services is struggling to keep its doors open.

“We need help,” says Halina Jarvis, director of Loaves and Fishes in Red Deer. “My big cry to Red Deer is please partner with us.”

The agency provides hot meals, winter clothing, bag lunches for school kids, and food hampers for hundreds of people in need.

Jarvis is amazed by what she calls the miracle of people’s generosity even as she is perplexed by the constant need. “The more we give, the more comes in.”

She describes a recent example when workers gave away their last items of food in storage to a hungry family. “How do you say no to someone who asks for food?”

The next day a local group brought a big donation of food and restocked the empty shelves. Jarvis has learned to give no matter what, believing the needs will continue to be supplied even when things look grim. “You can’t out give God,” she explains.

Each month she is left in suspense about funds. She admits her biggest fear is that the doors will close due to lack of funding and that as a result people on the street will go hungry and kids won’t get lunches. The operating costs of Loaves and Fishes near $25,000 a month.

It’s generous people who volunteer their time and their money who make the difference, she says, such as people like the sales clerk at a local grocery store who decided to give $75 off of every pay cheque each month. “Everyone working together makes things work.”

Her small staff puts in 12-hour days and is “absolutely dedicated. We’re bone-tired, but can’t imagine not doing it.”

Jarvis admits that she picks up every penny she finds on the street, a lesson she’s learned about the value of even the smallest contribution. “If every family in Red Deer were to give just $5 a month that would be $60 a year!” But she would happily take $20.

The peace of mind such funds would bring to her staff concerned about operating costs would be enormous. It would also enable them to think about the greater financial needs they have in order to start up a needed rehab centre and courses in self-reliance and English as a second language for those who benefit from their daily services.

“People have to eat first, then we take care of whatever emergency there is.”

Jarvis praises the other agencies in the city like the Safe Harbour Society and other social services she can call when someone walks in the door with specific needs.

She highlights that Loaves and Fishes is not the only non-profit in the city struggling to raise money for their day-to-day operations. “We’re really scrambling. Unless you find someone to partner with, you’re always scrambling.”

The work of providing care for people in need is a mix of hard work and faith. “Sometimes I feel like I’ve got my finger in a hole of a big dam,” she says, wondering what would happen if the volunteers and staff were to walk away from the work into something less harrowing.

Loaves and Fishes serves evening meals every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and lunch on the first, second, and fifth Sunday of every month. Lately, Jarvis says, the mealtimes have been “packed.”

“Willing hearts and hands” are all a person needs to volunteer, she says.

She welcomes people to come down to serve a meal. “It gets a hold of you.”

Anyone interested in volunteering or making a donation to Loaves and Fishes can call 403-347-1844 or visit