Hungry hearts: Upper Room Soup Kitchen offers more than just food

The Charlottetown soup kitchen is not just a place where the city's most vulnerable get fed — it's also a place for them to feel accepted.

'I think the most important thing is for people to remember that everyone is human here'

Volunteers prepare sandwiches for lunch at the Upper Room Soup Kitchen in Charlottetown. (Laura Meader/CBC)

It's an average day at the Upper Room Soup Kitchen in Charlottetown. The tables are full, and there's a steady line of people waiting for meal trays.

Staff and volunteers serve between 85 and 120 people per meal, says general manager Mike MacDonald.

"I would love to see the day that there's no need for a soup kitchen or a food bank," he said.

"Unfortunately, I don't see that day coming any time soon."

The Upper Room Soup Kitchen serves lunch and supper on weekdays and lunch on weekends. (Laura Meader/CBC)

And in the last five years, the number of young people using the soup kitchen has "doubled or tripled," MacDonald said.

Before, staff would only see a few young people in a normal day, MacDonald said, but now that number is closer to 15 regulars who are likely in their 20s.

Families with young children

Among those regulars are a couple families with young children, some bringing in strollers.

"These parents are really looking out for the best thing for their kids in accessing that nutritious meal," he said.

Soup kitchen manager Tammy MacKinnon says she tries to make a connection with her clients. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Tammy MacKinnon, who became manager of the soup kitchen in December 2016, said she was surprised at the number of meals the kitchen continues to serve.

I don't see the numbers going down, that's for sure.- Tammy MacKinnon

"I don't see the numbers going down, that's for sure," she said.

The kitchen serves a wide range of people in vulnerable situations — many of whom are dealing with drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness and poverty, MacKinnon said.

"I think the most important thing is for people to remember that everyone is human here," she said.

The Upper Room Soup Kitchen started in Charlottetown in 1984. This location on Richmond Street has been used for more than 10 years. (Laura Meader/CBC)

​"Yes some of them panhandle, yes some of them are homeless, yes some of them are addicts, but they're all humans, and every single one of them deserve respect and dignity."

MacKinnon stressed the soup kitchen is not just somewhere to get food — it's a place to feel accepted. Staff and volunteers try to get to know people, she said, taking time to go around to the tables and chat with clients. 

James Cleveland says he looks forward to seeing friends and having a good meal. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"We've really tried to build a relationship with people here," she said. "I think the biggest need here is a place for people to come and feel that they have somewhere to go and be with other people."

James Cleveland said he comes to the soup kitchen when he's having a rough time between jobs.

"It's a good place to come," he said.

About the Author

Laura Meader is a video journalist for CBC P.E.I.