The future of Whitehorse's weekend soup kitchen is uncertain, after territorial government inspectors warned against serving meals made at volunteers' homes.
"It needs to be prepared in a certified kitchen," said Father David Reilander, who helps run the Sacred Heart Cathedral's soup kitchen. "They can inspect those kitchens. They cannot inspect private home kitchens, and that's what they're concerned about."
The soup kitchen was told last fall to stop serving home-made meals, but it's been given until April to find a solution. The territorial government has also asked the church to prepare a report explaining its dilemma.
A government statement acknowledges there have been no reported illnesses from soup kitchen meals, but "regulations are created to serve and protect Yukoners."
More people relying on soup kitchen
The church has a certified kitchen, but Reilander said it's only used for some meal preparation. He said many volunteers prepare soups at home and freeze them for the soup kitchen to use as needed.
Requiring everything to be cooked in the certified kitchen will be "difficult for some, and un-doable for other volunteers," said organizer Phil Gibson.
"It will reduce the number of people that we have as volunteers, it will concentrate the time when they do their volunteer activity until just before the meals."
According to Gibson, the soup kitchen can't afford to lose volunteers or the food they provide because so many people rely on the service — some weekends, more than 100 people show up for a meal.
"The numbers have gone up quite significantly over the last few years."
Reilander and Gibson said they understand the need for food safety regulations, but they're hopeful the government will grant an exemption.
The government said it will review how other jurisdictions deal with home-cooked food served in public places, and look at whether Yukon's Public Health and Safety Act should be amended.
Have a banana
Whitehorse's Outreach van found itself in a similar situation a year ago. Volunteers were making soups and sandwiches at home, to be handed out to vulnerable people on the street. Government inspectors told them to stop.
Now, the Outreach van hands out fruit and muffins.
"Vegetable muffins or fruit muffins, things with lots of nuts, and a bit substantial," said Megan Grudeski, coordinator of the Outreach van program.
"We understand that we need to be delivering food in a very sanitary, healthy way so we aren't possibly making people sick. But then it also is putting barriers in place for people who do rely on those for sources for food security," she said.