As the days get colder, volunteers at St. Andrew’s are expecting longer lines at their once-a-month Iona Coffee Stop.
“Again and again we see a lot of new faces,” says Rev. Neil Elliot. “There are new people coming to town we haven’t seen before … when we moved from being a food bank to being a coffee stop, initially the number of people dropped, but not as much as we thought,” the reverend added.
“But again, it’s building up and building up.”
Patrons were lining up on the chilly Tuesday morning this week waiting for doors to open at 10 a.m. – within a half hour the Anglican Church hall was full and volunteers busy cooking lunch or offering bread, fruit and pumpkin pie.
“Our congregation is very proud of what we do here,” said Rev. Elliot. “It’s important to reach out to the community and give to people you wouldn’t expect will be able to give back, that’s what Thanksgiving is all about.”
Organizer Pam Hinton says the church welcomes an average 88 individuals to Iona Coffee Stop, where patrons are invited to sit down until 11:30 a.m. and socialize as a community while they listen to music and enjoy a warm meal.
The volunteer-run service does struggle with funding at times, but this week the St. Andrew’s congregation made sure there were a few special goodies to offer.
“Because it was Thanksgiving we decorated the church,”said Hinton. “We asked for any extras to be brought to the coffee stop, so we have a lot of produce left over from the holiday and people have been bringing in produce from their gardens.”
In addition to the once-a-month service which now includes singing Happy Birthday and cake, the Anglican Church sponsors seven families with monthly grocery hampers that are tailored to suit their needs.
And, when the family’s outlook changes, Hinton says they are more than happy to pay it forward.
“When things improve they let us know,” she explained. “Then we can take on another family. It’s happened before, (when) they are ahead of the game, they say to pass it on.”
Food Banks Canada reports that about 104,000 individuals, 32 per cent being children, access food banks across B.C. each month.
The organization points out that many people don’t realize it could be their neighbour or coworker who needs help from the food bank, because there is no typical person that turns to a food bank for help.
It could be a family with both parents working but still struggling or a low income single parent, it may be a senior whose fixed income doesn’t stretch far enough, or it may be someone with a sudden job loss or chronic health problem.
And in Trail, those scenarios are often seen.
Hinton says young children, not in school, were often accompanying mothers or grandmothers during the summer months.
Senior patrons often have to choose between medications and food, said Rev. Elliot.
And that leads to the Iona Coffee Stop mission – the St. Andrew’s monthly service is more than just a place to grab a quick meal – it is becoming known as a safe space for the needy community to visit and support one another.
“The atmosphere is supportive and encouraging,” Rev. Elliot said. “One of the things I hear talking to some of the people who use the food bank, is there is a culture in the community of people who are supported by this,” he shared.
“Which isn’t true in other places and we hope we are contributing to that … so that it’s not just something we are doing once a month, it’s changing the culture for our disadvantaged people who support each other – that’s wonderful to hear.”
The Iona Coffee Stop is made possible by financial donations from businesses and individuals in the Greater Trail area as well as from St. Andrew’s parishIonars.
Fourteen regular volunteers and drop-in helpers give their time to run the service.
For more information or to donate to the church pantry, call the St. Andrew’s office at 250.368.5581.