Whitehorse soup kitchen told to stop serving home-cooked food

Whitehorse's Sacred Heart Cathedral has been told by Yukon government inspectors that it must stop serving home-cooked meals at its weekend soup kitchen. 'They cannot inspect private home kitchens, and that’s what they’re concerned about.'

Catholic church says it relies on volunteers who prepare soups and stews at home

Father David Reilander and Phil Gibson coordinate the soup kitchen, which was told last fall that it had to stop serving food prepared at people's homes. 'We began to realize this was going to be a far more complicated issue to address than we thought,' Reilander said. (Sandi Coleman/CBC)

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.

Whitehorse's Outreach van had to stop serving homemade soups and sandwiches a year ago. 'It's reduced the overall number of clients that we see, but we are being able to focus more on harm-reduction clients,' said coordinator Megan Grudeski. (CBC)

"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.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.