The Rainbow Kitchen in Esquimalt knew its patrons by name and used to see about one new face a month come through the doors for its various food programs, but now it’s seeing about five new users a day.
That surge in users has been consistent since the pandemic, and now high grocery prices and fewer donations have resulted in the community kitchen’s usually-stocked shelves and cupboards running bare.
Patrick Johnstone, executive director at Rainbow Kitchen, said they rely on donors, farmers and wholesalers to help them keep the shelves stocked. They provide around 180,000 meals every year, but are having to do more with less right now.
“We have to turn to our community at this time of year and say ‘Hey, we want to stay open and we’re seeing the rise in our neighbours needing these resources, can you help us?’” Johnstone said.
Victoria’s Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller has answered the call with a $25,000 donation to the kitchen, part of the $110,000 it gives to local charities.
Bob Plecas, the Sovereign Order’s commander, said they’re encouraging the community to match the funds it provided after seeing a real crisis affecting those who can least afford the higher living costs.
“It breaks my heart to see it in our community,” Plecas said of seeing empty shelves at Rainbow Kitchen.
He said they’ve already seen people pitch in to their fundraising challenge, so he urged others to give whatever they’re able to.
“It will take a whole community effort to deal with this issue over the coming winter.”
While the soaring inflation rate has come down a bit recently, grocery prices have continued to rise as Canadians paid 11.4 per cent more at the supermarket in September compared to the same month last year. Statistics Canada said bad weather, high fertilizer and natural gas prices and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine contributed to that 40-year high.
The funds from the Sovereign Order will help them offer 10,000 hot prepared meals to those who need them.
“It’s life-changing for the Rainbow Kitchen,” Johnstone said. “They step up in times when we need it the most, they understand the impact on the community and how many meals this is going to provide and how many months of support this will make sure that the Rainbow Kitchen can stay open for.”
The donations they get at this time of year are what gets them through winter, so the toughest part is ahead, Johnstone said.
Ivan Livingstone has been a longtime user of the kitchen, has volunteered for it and was eating breakfast there on Thursday.
“Their only mandate is to feed the hungry,” he said, praising the kitchen’s safe and welcoming atmosphere. The 76-year-old stressed it’s not just those experiencing homeless needing help with food right now, but also the working poor.
“If a bunch of people give a little, it helps a lot.”
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