More demand than supply for Hay River soup kitchen

Heavily frequented local charity continues to struggle to keep stoves lit and shelves stocked, but is thankful for recent influx of donations.

Local charity received $40,000 of much-needed support this month

The Soup Kitchen, also a food bank, feeds up to 70 people day, six days a week. It provides close to 100 hampers monthly — and the demand keeps growing. (Submitted by Mattie McNeill)

A Hay River soup kitchen received much-needed support this month, including $40,000 — some of which came as a surprise.

But like many not-for-profit groups, financial uncertainty weighs heavily on its volunteers.

"We're so grateful to have the support we do, but we always need more," says the charity's president Christopher Aitken, a longtime Hay River, N.W.T., resident and retired teacher.

Historically, the United Way, Town of Hay River, Union of Northern Works, Food Rescue and anonymous donors provide the majority of their cash and in-kind donations.

The Soup Kitchen, also a food bank, feeds up to 70 people day, six days a week. It provides close to 100 hampers monthly — and the demand keeps growing. 

So much so that soup kitchen clients have been asked to eat in shifts between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., with noon to 1 p.m. reserved for students.

A volunteer at the soup kitchen in Hay River, N.W.T. (Submitted by Mattie McNeill)

The volunteers, some who are in their 70s, peel potatoes and butter bread as though it is as a full-time job.

Volunteers are also expected to file taxes and apply for grants, which has been a challenge.

"Other organizations have full time, paid people applying for money. They have the time and the staff to produce these beautiful proposals," says Aitken.

"We can't provide those beautiful proposals. And we've felt left out, kinda sad, because we are not in the same position."

Surprise donations

Things were looking bleak in September.

The charity's bank account was in the red after purchasing a much-needed hot-water tank and a commercial fridge to store fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products. They also owed $3,000 in insurance and land taxes.

Then things started looking up.

Truckloads of coffee, cereal, crackers and canned goods arrived this week, a donation from the Marine Transport Services. The Soup Kitchen treasurer Mattie McNeill estimates the haul is worth about $10,000.

McNeill says the dry and canned food was for barge staff who live and work on the boats in the summer.

Then came the $1,000 cheque from Holy Name of Jesus Church in Essex, Ont. — thanks to a parishioner's family connection to Hay River. 

The biggest boost was $32,000 in anti-poverty funding that was promised earlier this year; the soup kitchen was only able to access it this month after getting paperwork in order.

Aitken says they are always looking for new volunteers — especially ones with writing skills.

The board is holding a fundraiser on Oct. 28 called A Taste of Soup with the hopes of raising more money the Christmas season approaches.