The Loaves and Fishes Benevolent Society will be closing its doors at the end of June with the Calgary-based Mustard Seed taking over the organization’s assets.
According to a statement released by the Loaves and Fishes board this week, the organization has struggled for the past number of years with a lack of financial resources.
“Our hearts are broken,” said Halina Jarvis, executive director of Loaves and Fishes, adding that she’s concerned about where the people they serve will go for the next few months for help – until The Mustard Seed’s operations fully kick in locally.
“It’s been our heart and our passion – we’ve lived and breathed this place,” she said, adding that Loaves and Fishes also provides outreach and crisis intervention services.
She is also worried about where the folks they provide supper for three times a week will eat. “I worry where will they eat – it’s 200 meals three times a week.
“They were so welcome here – we were a safe place,” she said. “So we will try to transition as well as we can with minimal damage to the people – that’s my big cry right now – to try and minimize the damage that’s going to happen to them for three months.
“Maybe in the interim some of the churches will kick in,” she said. “We’ll also see what we can do to alleviate what’s going to happen to these folks, because that’s the big thing right now.
“I’m also worried about the ground level crisis people that we always tried to help. That was our passion and our heart – to help the people that nobody else would help.”
Jarvis said the call-out for increased help has gone out over the past while, but there just wasn’t enough to keep the organization moving forward. Loaves and Fishes receives no government funding on any level, and relies on the help of individuals, families, local businesses and corporations. But she acknowledged that with the downturn in the economy, there just aren’t as many dollars to go around.
Mayor Tara Veer said the loss is a significant one for the community.
“Loaves and Fishes has been an institution in Red Deer and has provided outstanding service to the vulnerable among us for over 20 years. In that sense it is a loss to the community because of who they are and all that they have brought to community life in terms of social supports in Red Deer,” she said. “We’re grateful The Mustard Seed is going to take over operations so there is not a gap. Our City staff has already met with The Mustard Seed and they have expressed interest in working with us.”
Veer added funding is available, but, “All of the social supports in terms of the provincial and federal dollars that flows through, they all go to open calls for proposal. At any time Loaves and Fishes, like any other not for profit, had the right to apply for those programs and it is a competitive process and those programs are over-subscribed.”
Effective June 30th, Loaves and Fishes Benevolent Society will close its doors and no longer operate or provide any services in Red Deer or surrounding area.
Meanwhile, The Mustard Seed is looking forward to the opportunity to provide services to people experiencing poverty and homelessness in Red Deer and area.
“It is with mixed feelings that we accept these assets,” said Stephen Wile, CEO of The Mustard Seed.
“On the one hand, we are very sorry the Society has had to cease operations. On the other hand, we are excited about the opportunities for future ministry growth in Red Deer to help meet some very tangible needs.”
Over the next few months, The Mustard Seed will conduct a needs assessment to determine where there might be gaps in programs and services for men and women who are desperately in need of assistance due to poverty and/or homelessness.
“We will be talking with community leaders, human service agencies, churches and other stakeholders,” said Wile. “Our goal is to operate in some capacity by September.”
The Loaves and Fishes School Lunch Program is one service that The Mustard Seed plans to continue with in the fall, whether by running it themselves or in conjunction with another agency. The program provides lunches to more than 300 school children who might otherwise not have a nutritious meal at mid-day.
Over the next month, The Mustard Seed will be working with Loaves and Fishes to ensure continuity of care for its clients by re-directing them to existing agencies that can provide them with vital programs and services.
Another organization operating in the basement of the Loaves and Fishes building has been given notice to vacate by June 30th.
The Safe Harbour Society has rented the space on a month-to-month basis to run its Peoples Place program, which provides emergency shelter to as many as 35 men and women. The Mustard Seed is committed to working with them to ensure another location can be found for this important program, according to a release.
Meanwhile, the statement from Loaves and Fishes also noted, “We have attempted some resolutions but have not been able to turn things around. We are in a tough economy and there are many organizations competing for charitable contributions; therefore, it does not seem our situation is going to improve.
“Our closure would have been much sooner, but, recognizing that this is a faith-based ministry and that the work we have been involved with has been to follow our motto as explained by Matthew 25:35, ‘I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,’ we kept trying to improve our situation and get more involvement from our donors and the Church community. This has not happened.”
The statement also noted that the organization has tried to take action to operate within their resources and continue to provide this ministry.
“Churches have provided some assistance, about $30,000 per year, but the majority of our funding comes from individuals, a few organizations and our fundraisers. Our operating shortfall has been $25,000 to $30,000 per year. We have not gained ground to become financially stable; therefore, we have had to make a difficult decision to do what needs to be done to ensure that we are good stewards of what has been entrusted to us and try to be fair to our staff and not leave any outstanding obligations.”
“Thank you to those who have believed in our ministry and provided support over these many years. Sorry, to those clients that we are not able to provide continuing or new support to, but we are grateful that The Mustard Seed will be able to step into the gap and be there to help meet the tangible needs in our community.”