Hay River Soup Kitchen forced to scale back services

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Betty Robinson, an honourary board member of the Hay River Soup Kitchen, holds an empty box that would normally become a hamper filled with food for some needy individual or family. Because of higher demand for food and rising prices, the Soup Kitchen has decided to just continue offering lunches three times a week for the foreseeable future. Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Betty Robinson, an honourary board member of the Hay River Soup Kitchen, holds an empty box that would normally become a hamper filled with food for some needy individual or family. Because of higher demand for food and rising prices, the Soup Kitchen has decided to just continue offering lunches three times a week for the foreseeable future.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

The Hay River Soup Kitchen has decided to suspend distribution of food hampers.

However, soup and sandwich lunches will continue to be offered three times a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Chris Aitken, the president of the Soup Kitchen, explained the change is necessary because of high demand and rising prices for food.

“We are feeding more people,” he said. “Much more people.”

And Aitken has the numbers to prove it – 882 meals served to adults and children in January, 912 in February, 1,031 in March and 1,213 in April.

Aitken noted that the increased demand has been partially caused by the needs of people displaced by the March 15 fire at the Mackenzie Place highrise.

The Soup Kitchen created its last hampers on May 14.

The hampers – prepared for one, two or three people – contained about $75 worth of food, but were sold at the nominal price of $5.

The Soup Kitchen would normally distribute 10-16 hampers a week, with one individual or family able to buy up to two each month.

Aitken noted that people who would normally receive the hampers can still get food from the Soup Kitchen.

“Those people who get the hampers can still come and get three meals. They can still do that,” he said. “We know that our hampers are very, very lucrative and we just can’t keep up with that.”

It is unknown when the hamper service might resume.

However, Aitken estimated that the Soup Kitchen would need about $20,000 in additional funding to again start creating hampers.

The Soup Kitchen receives funding and other support from a number of sources, including the Anti-Poverty Fund of the GNWT, United Way NWT, churches, the Royal Canadian Legion, donations from individuals and businesses, the Hay River Metis Government Council, and others.

The hampers have been prepared for about 15 years, and the $5 fee has been charged since last year partly as a way to encourage people to be responsible with their money.

Aitken and other members of the Soup Kitchen board of directors noted an increase in food prices has also impacted its ability to offer the hampers.

“Our food bill last year was almost $54,000,” he said.

“The prices have definitely gone up,” said Betty Robinson, an honourary board member.

“We have to look at what we can sustain, and our priority is to sustain the soup and sandwiches three times a week,” added Mattie McNeill, the treasurer with the Soup Kitchen.

The organization is working on getting more financial support.

“We’re looking for help from anybody that will give it to us,” said Robinson.

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