An organization that provides deeply discounted hot meals to people in need in Gatineau, and also runs a breakfast program for 35 schools, could close entirely because it's $500,000 in debt.
La Soupière de l’Amitié de Gatineau — or Tureen of Friendship of Gatineau — opened in 1986 and operates on Notre Dame Street. It serves lunches to 35 to 40 homeless people each day and on weekdays it also operates a breakfast program for 35 schools in the area.
It costs the non-profit group about $800,000 to run the kitchen each year, which it collected from bingo halls and through donations and fundraising. It receives no government funding.
The group says donations have decreased and that bingo halls closed. They remortgaged their building on Notre Dame, which left them with $120,000 in debt, and the Canada Revenue Agency says the group owes $172,000 in back taxes for the personal income of employees, which wasn't remitted.
Board member Louise Petitclerc says financial advisers looked over the books and determined that no fraud took place. Instead, she says previous leaders decided to use money that should have been paid in taxes to help run the kitchen.
"In a nutshell, about six or seven years ago, we lost bingos, which was $100,000 in revenue. This was lost, and I guess, to not diminish the services we were giving, someone thought it was a good idea to not pay everything or divert money from one place to another, which is not a good idea," Petitclerc says.
"This was never brought to the board of directors."
Advisers now recommend that the organization should shut down. They'll continue to provide breakfasts in schools until the end of the school year, and they hope another organization will step up to take over.
The last hot lunch will be served today, Petitclerc says, though they're going to try to find a way to keep the kitchen running elsewhere if they can.
"It's very sad. The people that are helped by la Soupière, they come in at 9:30 a.m. and they leave at 2 p.m. It's not just a lunch service, it's a place where they feel that they belong. We have to recreate that for them somewhere, and I'm hoping [someone] will help us to do that," Petitclerc says.