Kitchen expansions resulted in a lot of talk around the table at a recent council meeting.
While renovating a kitchen might not seem like a topic for political debate, it is when the kitchen in question is one: in a church, and two: the site of a local breakfast program, a lunch program and a makeshift food bank to feed locals in need.
St. Patrick’s Church, Diocese of Caledonia had applied to the District of Fort St. James for a grant-in-aid to help with a proposed kitchen expansion of the local facility being used to feed 40-80 people per meal at a Lunch Program and a Breakfast Program each week.
The grant-in-aid requested from the local district was $2,500 towards the total cost of the expansion, estimated at over $46,000.
The group still needs to raise $22,000 at last count and the local Fort St. James mayor and council were still deciding what to do with the request.
Last year, a request for a grant-in-aid was turned down because the funding would be for physical upgrades to the church building instead of the program, and the district balked at the implications of funding a religiously affiliated facility.
However, there are no rules preventing giving funding from grant-in-aid to these organizations according to Kevin Crooke, administrative officer for the District of Fort St. James.
As an option, Emily Colombo, economic development officer for the District of Fort St. James, suggested the possibility of funding the food program itself, potentially freeing up dollars for the renovations.
Councillor Riley Willick also brought forward the idea of using Fort St. James Bucks for the grant-in-aid in order to keep the benefits local.
Councillor Dave Birdi voiced reservations about funding the meal programs in a community experiencing relative economic prosperity.
“When I see all the economic activity in this town, I try to find the value of it,” said Birdi. “When we start putting in over time, instead of the problem going away … we’re really not solving the problem.”
Councillor Joan Burdeniuk, however, defended the necessity of these types of programs even in times of prosperity.
“Having economic development can be very good for some people, but it can be very costly for some people,” said Burdeniuk. “It’s a tricky balancing act.”
“It definitely fills a need in the community,” said Willick. Both Willick and Burdeniuk agreed they would feel more comfortable funding the program itself rather than the kitchen upgrades to the church.
The church currently donates the five foot by eight foot kitchen space to volunteers who provide the breakfast and lunch programs. The kitchen size only accommodates a stove and a double sink with some counter space, the fridge is in the hallway and food for the food bank is stacked in church pews.
The eating area currently accommodates up to 24 people, so patrons must eat in shifts, but even after the expansion, there will only be room for up to 36 at a time. This is far less than the up to 80 people who can attend the free meals.
So far, the church has managed to take in significant amounts through private donations towards the cause, with money coming from both the Vanderhoof and Fort St. James communities, according to Reverend Gwen Andrews.
Some of this money was from “large anonymous donations,” said Andrews, “so we believe that people are really responding well to the need.”
A standing list of volunteers cook and donate the food each week to keep the program running, and some local businesses also help out, including Sana’aih Market and Fas Gas, and a Vanderhoof rancher has offered to donate an entire beef as well.
“People are really enthusiastic about it and we feel that the funding will come and the need of the community will be met,” said Andrews.
The church has also applied to First Nations in the area and the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako.
The Food Bank distribution will now be going on the last Tuesday of every month, with distribution being looked after by Holly Keyowski and some friends.
Anyone wanting to donate or in need of emergency food supplies can contact Revered Andrews at: 250-567-6744.