'We can't let Earl down:' Twin sisters working hard for neighbours at Selkirk's soup kitchen
New co-chairs say Our Daily Bread is heading in right direction after 'stressful and hectic' 1st months
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When twin sisters Beverly Terhorst and Barbara Pasaur decided to volunteer together at a Selkirk, Man., soup kitchen, they never imagined that what started as a way to spend time together would turn into such a massive responsibility.
But after a couple of challenging months at the helm of the Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, they feel things are going in the right direction. And the clients seem to agree.
"I come to the soup kitchen Monday to Friday and it's always a satisfying meal here," said Earl Hill, 50, who is originally from Gods Lake Narrows in northern Manitoba.
"It's always a pleasure to be here because of their generosity and their hospitality, and everyone here has a nice attitude."
Hill is one of the 20 or so regulars who are among the roughly 70 people the soup kitchen sees every day. He is also one of the reasons Terhorst and Pasaur stepped up.
"We can't let Earl down," the 67-year-old fraternal twins say in unison.
For 20 years, the women would bicycle together as a way of making time for each other in their busy lives. But when Terhorst wrecked her knee, they needed a different activity to nurture their twin connection.
With Terhorst living in West St. Paul, and Pasaur living in Lester Beach, they decided to find something to do in the middle — Selkirk. So six years ago, they started volunteering once a week at the soup kitchen.
Twins take over
Our Daily Bread, which is run entirely by volunteers and funded by donations, operates in the ancient but much-loved Memorial Hall in Selkirk — a cavernous gymnasium-type building with old wooden floors and a stage. The building plays host to a myriad of events in Selkirk, from pickleball to craft sales. The city currently allows the soup kitchen to use the space at no charge.
Pasaur, the more vocal of the pair, eventually took a position on the board as treasurer. So when long-time soup kitchen chair Rene Gauthier announced in January that he wanted to retire at the end of August, he looked squarely in her direction.
"Rene had been bugging me," says Pasaur. "He said, 'I know you're passionate about this place. You have to figure something out.' And I said no," recalls Pasaur.
Gauthier knew better than anyone the massive effort required to run the place. He agreed that it was too much for Pasaur, who works full-time at a seniors' housing complex in Charleswood, to take on. So they both let it lie.
But as time ticked by, and with no successor on the horizon, Terhorst — a provincial government retiree — had an idea.
"One day Bev and I were driving in the car after our Thursday shift and she said, 'How about if we just co-chair, and then what I can do I'll do, and what you can do you'll do,'" Pasaur said.
Come September, they jumped right in. Pasaur describes the first couple of months as stressful and hectic. They say they got lots of good advice from the former chair — but it's a bit like the difference between riding on a bus and actually driving one.
Keeping everything in stock is a big challenge, as is not "losing track" of things in the bottom of the four freezers. There was a small problem with mice, but that's been sorted. The industrial dishwasher and the oven both broke down within weeks of each other.
But the biggest challenge made it tough to even keep the doors open.
Scramble to replace volunteers
The twins assumed when they took over they'd be moving ahead with most of the same volunteers. But they were wrong.
"Rene is in his early 70s, and a lot of his volunteers were older than him. So all of [the volunteers working on] Tuesday quit … then Friday quit, and people were just saying, 'I've been doing this for 20 years. I'm tired and it's time to move on to a younger generation,'" said Pasaur.
While the women agree the volunteers deserved a well-earned retirement, they had to scramble to find replacements.
The stakes were high. Not only do the people who come to the hall daily depend on them, but the soup kitchen provides another 120 lunches a week for kids at the Youth for Christ program around the corner.
The failure to keep it open would have major repercussions in the city of 10,000. But one of the best solutions was right in front of them.
'We had nobody'
"We turned to our client base and said, 'You come here a lot. Is there any chance...?'" said Pasaur.
One of the people who stepped up is 45-year-old Cheryl O'Neill, who first came to Our Daily Bread Soup Kitchen 20 years ago after fleeing a bad relationship in Ontario.
As she pushes a cart full of homemade desserts to the guests seated at the long tables, O'Neill takes time to speak with everyone, sharing smiles and stories and laughter.
"Sometimes you just get down on your luck and you need that support and you need some place to go where they are going to smile and give you a hot meal," she said.
"And for me and my kids, at that time, that was the best gift we could ever have received, because we had nobody. And it just made me feel like a somebody. So we came here every day."
O'Neill says for her, the benefits the soup kitchen provided went far beyond food. She says her favourite part of volunteering is helping to make people feel cared for, just like the soup kitchen made her feel cared for.
"I could deal with the rest of my day better. I could be the appropriate single mother that I had now become," she said.
She says she and her five kids — ranging now from 10 to 25 years old — still gather at the soup kitchen, where the clients and volunteers have become a surrogate family.
Inviting clients to become volunteers has not only filled a practical need, but helped to grow a "we're all in this together" philosophy, says Terhorst. Anyone in the community — regardless of need — is welcome to come share a meal and conversation.
Three months in, Pasaur and Terhorst say they are grateful to their team of volunteers as well as the businesses, individuals, churches and Hutterite colonies who regularly donate to the soup kitchen, and to the city, which lets them use the hall.
They are also grateful to Winnipeg Harvest, which provides food donations twice a month.
But there is no time to rest. Their team of volunteers is preparing to host Our Daily Bread's annual Christmas lunch on Dec. 20. About 250 people will be served.
There is also still a gap in their service the co-chairs would like to fill. The person who used to run the Sunday breakfast program is among the volunteers who retired.
So the twins are encouraging "pop-up" breakfasts. If a business, church or other group agrees to host one, then they get a quick tour — and the keys to the hall.
So far, there have been four. Earl Hill says he has gone to, and enjoyed, them. But he says he's sad when there isn't a Sunday pop-up.
Pasaur and Terhorst say they'd love to fill that gap.
"We can't let Earl down," they say again, in unison.