Support networks around Quesnel were scrambling after the closure of the Salvation Army’s Warrior Song Cafe, which mayor Bob Simpson says provided services and support to some of the city’s most vulnerable.
The Salvation Army closed its food bank and soup kitchen that provided bagged lunches Tuesday to Friday early last week after a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for staff and volunteers took effect.
“Very few people are fully vaccinated, so we don’t have enough people to run the operations,” Salvation Army Major Randy Gatza told the Observer on Tuesday, Nov. 16.
Northern Network of Peers for Equality (NOPE) co-founders Kimberley (Kim) and Richard Meier learned of the closure by a community member who alerted them of it on Nov. 15 after seeing a notice posted to the doors of the center.
“They seemed genuinely concerned that nobody was going to have anywhere to eat,” Kim said, noting she and Richard had decided to rush to Walmart to make up to 20 bag lunches that they supplied each day from Nov. 16 to Nov. 19.
Well before 11:30 a.m., community members gathered outside the NOPE office for a bag containing a sandwich, bottled water, juice pouch, oranges, yogurt, granola bar and rice crispy treat.
NOPE co-founder Desiray Turrell assisted Kim and Richard with handing out the lunches, which quickly ran out.
With a very short time frame provided to address the closure, Simpson said there is no simple solution to accommodate donors trying hard to get their food donations to other service providers.
“We’re also disappointed that the Salvation Army did not reach out to us in advance of the closure so we could have made efforts to find substitute programs,” Simpson added.
“We have yet to speak with the Salvation Army directly, despite numerous efforts, and we’ve now reached out to the B.C. headquarters, again with no success. As a result, we’re now scrambling to find ways to fill the food gap created by the Salvation Army’s decision to close the Warrior Song Cafe.”
Gatza suggested the closure could be as few as several weeks as the Salvation Army headquarters works to temporarily hire someone to get their operations running again.
Kim said two weeks for anyone experiencing food insecurity and not having resources available is a long time.
“It’s devastating, so it’s crucial that we acted fast and we get those needs met just for overall mental health and wellness,” she said, noting many seniors and Indigenous people who would regularly access the soup kitchen and or food bank have stopped by their office for lunch.
After talking with the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) and explaining their dire situation, Kim said FNHA agreed to reimburse NOPE for costs, staffing and future lunches.
Lunches will continue to be provided at the NOPE office for the week of Monday, Nov. 22.
“This will be reviewed on a week-by-week basis,” Kim said, noting FNHA’s Northern Region Health Emergency manager, Carlos Colindres, was nothing short of amazing.
“I am so happy.”
The city, according to Simpson, appreciates the efforts of groups such as NOPE that immediately stepped up to provide some food to those in need and said they hope to find ways to support them in their efforts.
“The city is working with other agencies to not only find ways to deal with the immediate crisis created by the Salvation Army’s decision, but also on a longer term food security strategy that we hope will create a more robust and diverse food supply for those in need in the community,” Simpson said.