Category Archives: Community

Celebration Of Aboriginal Day Of Wellness

Oly Bent sang a Welcome Song as he played his hand drum at the Aboriginal Day of Wellness Celebration.
Oly Bent sang a Welcome Song as he played his hand drum at the Aboriginal Day of Wellness Celebration.

Joining with people of other cultures and traditions can be a delightful, soul enriching experience. When the Upper Similkameen Indian Band recently posted an invitation to its celebration of Aboriginal Day of Wellness, Linda and I knew immediately we wanted to be there. We thought it would be a low key affair, with the possibility of getting to know some band members. It was a pleasant surprise to learn there would be a formal program and a sumptuous sit down meal.

We didn’t anticipate the congenial, up beat, fun atmosphere. Plenty of smiles made it clear these people had come to have a good time. Even more important to us, a number of band members gave us a warm welcome.

The event took place last Wednesday at the USIB’s Centre on Snaza’ist Street on the periphery of Hedley. Fifty two enthusiastic guests attended, including a number of children and youths, plus at least half a dozen individuals from the Hedley community. We were impressed by the way the evening’s activities were ably coordinated by Shauna Fox, head of the band’s Home and Health Care program.

Shauna Fox, organizer of the event.
Shauna Fox, organizer of the event.

Prior to the meal, band member Oly Bent offered a reverential, heartfelt prayer of gratitude to the Creator. He followed this with a traditional welcome song, accompanying himself on a hand drum.

Oly Bent with his hand drum.
Oly Bent with his hand drum.

In a lively, well received talk, Clint Holmes explained how he had dug a pit, lined it with rocks and cooked the moose and elk that were on the menu. He said he had assisted with pit cooking twice in the past, but this was his first time doing it alone.

Clint Holmes described the pit cooking process.
Clint Holmes described the pit cooking process.

Guests were invited to select from an elaborate array of dishes, consisting of traditional Indigenous cuisine, laid out on a large table. Along with other elders, the small Hedley contingent was served by 2 congenial young men, Kelly and Kennedy Fox-Zacharias. Respectful and competent, these clean cut young men introduced themselves and made us feel honoured. They would almost certainly be coveted by any high class, big city restaurant.

Shauna Fox explained later it is an aboriginal custom to serve elders first. The young servers delivered to each guest a platter laden generously with Aboriginal style chili, topped with chopped lettuce and tomatoes, sour cream and salsa, all on a slice of delicious, mouth watering fried bread. The bread had been prepared by much loved and respected local elder, Carrie Allison, wife of departed Chief Slim Allison. The frying, which required 6 hours of intensive labour in a hot kitchen, was done by Mary Allison under Carrie’s guidance.

Of particular fascination for Linda and me, and the other Hedley attendees seated at our table, was the soap berry ice cream (sxuxm), also made by Carrie. We learned from her that the main ingredient is soap berries, which can be picked, usually at higher altitudes, in the Similkameen Valley. Water and sugar are added and this concoction is whipped into a delightful, crowd pleasing dessert. A couple of Hedley citizens were observed enjoying a second, rather generous helping of the ice cream at the close of the event.

One lucky guest, Brenda Wagner, was pleased to win a 19 inch television in a draw. We were surprised when Linda’s name was drawn for a high quality barbeque. We’ve never had much luck in draws. Linda has decided she will donate the barbeque back to the band for its own use or as a fund raiser. Several children also won prizes.

As people were leaving, a happy buzz suggested they felt they had participated in a significant, joyous event. Certainly that was the sentiment of the Hedley people. We had been graciously and respectfully received.

I have come to think of celebrating a special day with another culture as a privilege and an education. In this case it was an opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of who our neighbours are and what they value. I respect their fervent desire to pass on their traditions, customs, values, history and wisdom to future generations. In society generally, there often isn’t this understanding that it’s important to retain what has been learned and taught by elders.

With continued effort, good will and willingness, events like Aboriginal Day of Wellness could further strengthen the relationship between the band and the Hedley community. As we celebrate 150 years of nationhood, it’s a good time to become better acquainted with our neighbours.

Larry McIntosh Influenced Hedley Fire Department

Some members of the Hedley Fire Department at practise (Larry McIntosh not on this photo).
Some members of the Hedley Fire Department at practise (Larry McIntosh not on this photo).

In 1976, on my first visit to Hedley, I watched with fascination as firefighters, clad in jeans and t-shirts, ran to put out a chimney fire. They were pulling a 2 wheeled cart laden with a firehose. They had plenty of grit, but scant equipment or training.

Some years later, Linda and I moved to Hedley and I was able to observe the development of the Fire Department. The community made a bold move into the 20th century in 1984 when it acquired a 1973 Ford firetruck. Because house fires were scarce, the truck was used mainly to douse occasional chimney fires and for practise. Its mileage remained almost static and we had little thought of upgrading. Why pay higher taxes for a new truck we didn’t need?

Our complacent thinking received a rude shock when the insurance underwriters informed us our well preserved truck must be replaced, or our premiums would rise sharply. Many in the community felt we should look for a suitable used truck. The fire department argued for a new one. In two referendums we turned down the purchase of a new truck. Then, when we went to renew our home insurance, we experienced premium sticker shock. In a third referendum we meekly bowed to the will of the all powerful underwriters and voted to buy a new fire truck. This marked the beginning of a remarkable transformation in the department.

After talking recently with Derek Lilly, a former Fire Chief, current Assistant Chief Doug Nimchuk, and retired Fire Department Manager, Graham Gore, I’ve concluded that one individual provided the primary impetus for the high standard now evident in the Hedley Fire Department.

Larry McIntosh settled in Hedley in about 2002. He had earlier been employed by the Delta Ambulance Service, when it was still combined with the Fire Department. He had also been Unit Chief of the Princeton Ambulance Service. He was currently working for the Forestry Wild Fire Service in summers, in charge of Logistics. His experience and skill level were impressive, and he was named Hedley’s Assistant Fire Chief. Using his wide range of training and expertise, he began making significant changes.

Larry laid the base for what we have today,” Doug Nimchuk told me. Graham agreed. “He had been involved in combating pretty much every major fire in B.C. Larry brought a high level of professionalism. He built training records and operational records. He instituted truck inspections and standardized turnout gear.”

Larry trained our First Medical Responders,” Doug said. “He raised the service to a high level. I accompanied him on a number of calls. He was confident and competent.”

Larry could be thoroughly practical. At one house fire there was a need for ventilation. He threw bricks and stones through the windows. He was known to say, “just give me water! Surround and drown!” At one fire only 26 inches separated the burning home from the adjacent building. Following Larry’s teaching, firefighters maintained a constant stream of water in the narrow space and the second structure was saved.

By the time Larry’s employment no longer permitted him to give much attention locally, he had trained others and established sound procedures. He apparently understood clearly he would be most effective, not by attracting more followers, but by developing more leaders. “He taught me almost everything I know,” Graham said. “Without his teaching and personal attention, I could not have been manager of the department.”

Larry didn’t seek recognition. He wanted to teach, raise standards and hand over responsibilities to the next generation. Graham, in his time as department manager, has sought to maintain Larry’s systems and his high standard of fire fighting and First Responder excellence.

End view of our house after fire burned the house next door
End view of our house after fire burned the house next door

Seven years ago the home next to ours burned to the ground on New Years Eve. It was a cold night and there was plenty of ice. Under the Command of Larry McIntosh, the Hedley Firefighters, with assistance from Keremeos, saved our home and the home on the other side. The new truck and the skill, training and discipline of the firefighters prevented what could have been a disastrous fire all along our block.

Before passing away unexpectedly on June 3rd of this year, Larry McIntosh played a key role in raising the Hedley Fire Department to a much higher level. Thanks to him, Graham, Doug and all the dedicated firefighters, our little community has a fire department we can be proud of.

Hedley Museum Celebrates Stamp Mill Day

The entertainers had an attentive audience at Hedley's Stamp Mill Day.
The entertainers had an attentive audience at Hedley’s Stamp Mill Day.

Sitting in the shade of several large trees, guests at the Hedley Stamp Mill Day celebration enjoyed a sumptuous lunch on Saturday. Put on by the Hedley Historical Museum, the meal featured beef on a bun plus a variety of salads and fruit. There was a continuous line up for the 5 cent ice cream cones.

Historical researcher Jennifer Douglass had written an account of the purpose and nature of the Stamp Mill. According to Douglass, the stamps pounded relentlessly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When the Nickel Plate Mine ceased operations in 1954 and shut down the mill, there were reports of people not being able to sleep due to the silence. The account was read by Hedley Postmaster Ruth Woodin.

Harold Tuck, George Huber and Colleen Cox playing Bluegrass music.
Harold Tuck, George Huber and Colleen Cox playing Bluegrass music.

Bluegrass music was provided by the energetic and highly popular duo, George Huber and Colleen Cox of Powell River. They had invited 85 year old Harold Tuck, also of Powell River, to accompany them. Harold’s father worked underground here from 1935 to 1941. Harold was only 3 when the family moved here but still has positive memories of Hedley and returns occasionally. He plays guitar and sings bass, mostly doing country and western music. Local musician Eric Lance played guitar and added his pleasant voice and style to the group.

Terry Regier has attentive observers for his gold panning instruction.
Terry Regier has attentive observers for his gold panning instruction.

Terry Regier of Hedley offered instruction in gold panning. The sand had been “salted” with real gold flakes. Participants were definitely motivated.

Also as part of Stamp Mill Day the Seniors’ Centre offered its always well received $5.00 pancake breakfast. In addition to pancakes it features 2 eggs and 2 sausages or slices of bacon and coffee.

Sixty three guests attended the event. Judging by comments they all went home well fed and very content. Museum president, the energetic Jean Robinson, expressed great appreciation to the numerous volunteers who made the day successful and memorable.

Drug House Sign On Telephone Poll

IMG_3526

Last week when Linda and I were walking along Daly Avenue in Hedley, we noticed an unusual sign attached to a telephone pole. It was an “advertisement” for the local drug house. Someone must have placed it there in the darkness of the night. It had not been there the previous day and would certainly be removed before the end of this day. People selling illicit drugs do not place ads in newspapers or on telephone poles. Fortunately, I had my camera in my jacket pocket and I took advantage of the opportunity.

The sign intrigued me because although there is a good deal of under the breath grumbling about the drug house, I’m not aware anyone has taken any direct action, other than complaining to the police.

At the Senior Centre’s coffee time early the next morning, Linda learned that similar signs had been posted on poles elsewhere in town, but no one could even guess who had done it. Whoever did it likely fears retribution and isn’t talking. All we know is the individual has the ability to use a computer, but just about everyone in Hedley possesses that skill.

My best guess is that it was a woman. One with the lively imagination required to concoct a plan such as this. (I’ll call her Martha.) Without exposing herself, Martha has cleverly and effectively cast light on the local drug operation. This certainly will not be welcome. When I looked for the signs the next morning, they had already been taken down.

Martha evidently possesses a well developed social conscience, and the will to take action when she believes her community is threatened. If one of the drug house “clients” had been restless and wandering about that night, she might have been seen and reported.

In suggesting that it was a woman who posted the signs, I’m obviously making an assumption. However, women have often provided leadership in battles against wrongdoing in their community. I’m always impressed when, instead of attacking head on, they devise wonderfully ingenious schemes to unsettle their adversary.

Nellie McClung

Martha seems to have a lot in common with an early Canadian social activist, Nellie McClung. I was reminded of Nellie when I saw the sign on the pole. Early in the 20th century Nellie and a delegation of women publicly presented Manitoba Premier Redmond Roblin with a petition requesting that women be given the right to vote. Roblin told them his mother had instilled in him a great respect for women and that they are actually on a higher plane than men. Nevertheless, he declared himself unequivocally opposed to giving them the right to vote. While he was speaking, Nellie observed his pompous, patronizing attitude, his ingratiating friendliness designed to disarm them, and his at times loud, commanding voice.

The following evening Nellie announced to a capacity crowd in the Walker Theater in Winnipeg that the program would include a mock parliament. It would feature a fantasy legislature in which gender roles were reversed.

When the curtain rose the stage was occupied by women wearing evening gowns and black coats.

Nellie McClung, in the role of Premier, adopted Roblin’s pompous, patronizing words and tones. Referring to a delegation of men who had requested the right to vote, she said, ”if all men were as intelligent as these representatives of the downtrodden sex seem to be, it might not do any harm to give them the vote. But all men are not intelligent.” Many in the audience had heard similar words about women from the Premier the evening before. She adopted the Premier’s stance, palms up. “There is no use giving men the vote,” she continued. “They wouldn’t use them. They’d let them spoil and waste. How could they be allowed to vote,” she thundered, “when 70% of those appearing in court are men? Giving men the vote would unsettle the home. The place for them is on the farm!”

These women protested with Nellie McClung.
These women protested with Nellie McClung.

Nellie McClung’s response to the Premier was innovative and her performance was masterful. She succeeded in persuading the audience that the Premier’s intransigence was illogical and foolish.

Although the signs have been removed from the poles, they aren’t really gone. I’ve heard that a local citizen posted a picture of one on Facebook.

The drug house won’t close because of Martha’s signs, but like Nellie McClung, she has reminded us that it is possible to push back against unsavoury influences in our community.

Visit From A Homeless Girl

Homeless Girl (morningadvertiser.co.uk)
Homeless Girl (morningadvertiser.co.uk)

Some years ago, on a frigid day in early January, I came upon a young homeless girl huddled under a tree against the wall of our Abbotsford condo.

Surprised, and sensing her misery, I asked “are you OK?”

“Yes,” she responded. Her voice suggested she meant “no.”

“You look cold,” I said, pulling off my thin gloves and handing them to her. She protested a moment and then accepted them willingly. Skinny as an anorexic fashion model, she seemed incredibly vulnerable. Giving her a pair of skimpy gloves was a meager gesture.

“Would you like to come in and get warmed up?” I asked.

She nodded.

In our condo, Linda turned up the fireplace. “Sit here,” she said. “I’ll bring you hot chocolate and a sandwich.”

“Complexa” seemed eager to talk about her life. We learned she was only 16, and for the past year her home had been a couple of tarps and blankets under some trees. Without any prompting, she volunteered she had done some drugs, including crystal meth. “I haven’t done a lot of meth,” she said. “I don’t have much money. I don’t sell my body.”

Still, we observed considerable twitching as she talked and ate. We attributed this to the meth.

Thinking she needed a thorough warming, Linda asked if she wanted a bath or shower. This thought appealed to her and she spent a good two hours in the tub.

We became concerned she might have taken drugs in with her and overdosed. Linda asked several times, “are you OK?”

Possibly the long stint in the bathroom was to forestall going back to the snow-laden streets.

We had a commitment that evening and couldn’t leave her in the building alone, so when she emerged from her long sojourn in the bathroom, we attempted to help her find a place for the night.

“Does your mom live around here?” Linda asked.

“Yes,” Complexa replied, “but we don’t get along. I haven’t seen her in over a year. Her cell number is out of service.”

“Do you have a dad?”

“My dad faded out of my life quite a few years ago,” she responded. “I don’t know where he is.” There was no indication of regret.

“Any brothers or sisters?”

“I have one brother,” she said. “He’s in prison.”

“What about grandparents?”

They were separated and living somewhere in Ontario. We attempted to find a phone number for them, but without success.

I phoned Community Services, the Salvation Army and the Abbotsford Police. I learned that only one small facility took in young girls. No answer there.

In the end, Complexa asked to use our phone and someone agreed to take her in. This person frequented a “drug house” in our neighbourhood.

Before leaving, she ate a bowl of hot stew and a bun, then thanked us warmly. When she walked out of our door, she walked out of our lives. In more than four hours, she had not smiled once.

Living in a strata building with strict rules, I’m not sure we could have done much more for Complexa.

Although I was aware of our limitations, I felt great unease knowing this 16-year-old unsmiling girl must wander about with no hope, no real destination and no connections outside the drug scene.

The social ills that were already prevalent in Abbotsford at that time have also been creeping into the Similkameen valley. In Hedley, addicts freely visit the much complained about drug house on Daly Avenue. Several are reputed to be making drugs available to teens. It seems that as a society we are capable of building impressive edifices, but we do not know how to create a future for drug addicted,homeless youths. The recent provincial budget, in spite of its many spending promises, will not change this.

Can we do more than wring our hands over this condition that is festering in the bowels of our society?

If our community and our larger society are to be healthy and vibrant, we must make a serious commitment to individuals and families in trouble, before they walk too far along this perilous path to utter hopelessness.

In spite of the scarcity of resources, I’d like to say to the addicted homeless Complexas in our communities, “don’t stop looking for help. It’s always too soon to give up.”

Keremeos Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas Celebration

This band entertained the crowd with a pleasant blend of tunes.
This band entertained the crowd with a pleasant blend of tunes.

A lively crowd of about 70 attended the Ukrainian Orthodox Christmas celebration hosted by the Keremeos, BC Senior Centre this past Sunday. The function featured a dance with live music followed by a Ukrainian potluck.

We’ve been doing this for about 17 or 18 years,” Kadia Schwetje, wife of the Centre’s President said. “There are quite a few Ukrainian people in Keremeos and the surrounding area. They come from places like Omak, Penticton, Princeton and Osoyoos. Snowbirds from other provinces also show up.”

A mellow, surprisingly pleasant blend of tunes was provided by the Centre’s house band, plus several extras. “The core band has been together for about 20 years,” Kadia said. “They play for our weekly dances.” It was evident that people were there to have a good time, and the dance floor filled up quickly. One white haired man was heard to say jokingly, “I’m looking for a woman to dance with me. Any woman will do.” Moments later he was on the dance floor with a trim, good looking woman.

By 4:30 the rich aroma of Ukrainian cooking turned the crowd’s attention to food. There were traditional dishes like cabbage rolls, perogies, and Ukrainian sausage with sauerkraut. Kadia, who is not Ukrainian, volunteered that there were a number of items whose names she could not pronounce.

According to Kadia, the Senior Centre has about 250 members. “We have exercise sessions, card games, floor curling, crafts and bingo. There are also other activities, plus services that we provide to the community. Everyone is welcome,” she said. “It costs only $20. a year to become a member.”

This crowd knows how to have a good time.

The Flavour Of Our Community

I asked Lynn Wells for permission to post the following letter, because it says something about  the flavour of our little community of Hedley.

Hedley Christmas Dinner 2016
Hedley Christmas Dinner 2016

Dear Hedley Seniors’ Centre friends and members:

It was an outstanding Christmas Day dinner at the Hedley Seniors’ Centre. We were expecting around 75 people. We seated 90. Fortunately, we cooked six turkeys with stuffing, two hams, 30 pounds of potatoes, as well as sweet potatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts, carrots, peas, and dinner rolls, accompanied by buckets of gravy and cranberry sauce. The dinner ended with some delectable desserts including pumpkin pies, black forest cake, cookies, Christmas cake, and much more. Everyone had more than enough to eat, and we sent five dinners to residents who were unable to attend the dinner.

The biggest note of appreciation goes to all those who donated money, food and, especially their time. Santa has his elves, the Seniors’ Centre has its wonderful volunteers. A special thank you goes to Beryl Wallace, Peggy Terry, Ruth Woodin, Nancy Draper, Margaret Skaar and her son Fred, Robin Ford, Cherie Ruprecht, Joy Pillipow & her grand-daughter Sophie, Lynne Mackay, Patt Melville, Cindy Regier, Michelle Jacobs, Marie Jacobs, Russ Stoney, Dave Peers, and Gary Ross. They shopped for supplies, set up and decorated tables, prepared food, cooked, delivered food, served food, and helped to clean up afterwards.

The Hitching Post and the Nickel Plate Restaurants also contributed. I apologize if I have missed anyone. especially those who brought food to the dinner or who worked silently in the background. Thank you to all those people, too. This Christmas dinner is an annual event at the Hedley Seniors’ Centre. It is a way to bring the community together on a day of celebration and giving. Thank you, everyone.

And now, on behalf of the Board of Directors and members of the Hedley Seniors’ Centre,

We wish you a healthy and happy 2017!

Lynn Wells

President

Hedley Community Club Potluck Fundraiser

3 year old Joey & his birthday cake
3 year old Joey & his birthday cake

The blaze that destroyed the aged Tillotson home in Hedley on Remembrance Day is still stirring hearts in the Similkameen valley and beyond. It was the home of Joan Tillotson, her daughter Amy Schindel, and Amy’s 3 year old son Joey. There were many hugs for the two women at a fund raiser potluck Sunday evening. The highlight for Joey was a cake with candles to celebrate his 3rd birthday.

Amy holding Joey
Amy holding Joey

In a conversation with Amy after the meal, the young mother said “We lost everything, but I have Joey. That’s the most important thing. He was sleeping on a couch when my mother and I stepped out onto the porch for a couple of minutes. I suddenly noticed a glow and ran in. Joey was crying. The fire was spreading so quickly all I could do was pick him up and run out.”

Joey was traumatized,” Joan said. “For a few days, he didn’t talk. He just made noises. Even now he’s frightened when he sees fire, or if there is a loud bang.”

Joan Tillotson
Joan Tillotson

 

I know I should have grabbed my wallet to save my ID,” Joan added, “but it was hot and the house was filling with smoke. It all happened so quickly my mind went blank. We got out with only the clothes we were wearing.”

The Tillotson family moved into the two story house in 1954. Joan was age 4 at the time. Later, as a young adult she moved out.

Amy was the daughter of my sister,” she said. “When my sister died, I adopted Amy. She’s my daughter. My Dad passed away when he was 93 and the house was empty, so we moved back in.”

The potluck, held at the Hedley Community Club, was one of several ongoing fundraisers in the community. It was spearheaded by Doug & TJ Bratt, owners of the Hedley Country Market. TJ said, “The donation box at the store has already garnered approximately one thousand dollars. Pointing to a large jar brimming with donations, she said “There’s probably another five hundred in there.” About 60 people were at the event.

Funds are also being raised by the Hedley Seniors’ Centre and the Hedley Grace Church. Because there was no insurance on the home and everything was burned, there is also a need for clothing and household items. Online donations can be made by transferring funds to amyschindel1008@gmail.com.

The moral support of so many people has been wonderful,” Amy said at the end, a note of emotion in her voice. “There are a lot of good people in this valley.”

Fire Destroys Hedley Home

Fire on hospital hill, photo by Gary Lecomte
Fire on hospital hill,
photo by Gary Lecomte

We virtually never hear the blare of the siren at the Fire Hall, except to announce fire practice Tuesday at 7:00 pm. When we heard it Friday, Nov. 11th, we found it hard to believe there might actually be a fire. Probably not, I thought, but I hurriedly put on shoes and jacket and rushed out to be sure. A huge glow on Hospital Hill quickly caught my attention. In the light of the fire, a black plume of smoke was visible, rising several hundred feet into the dark sky.

It was the Tillotson house, a large, very old 2 story wood structure, the home of Amy Schindel, her young son Joey, and her mother. Set against the mountain, bright orange flames had already engulfed the entire building. The fire department had arrived quickly, and was spraying the trees to ensure the fire would not spread up the mountain.

Fortunately, the 3 occupants had managed to get out of the building safely. We learned later that it had started as a grease fire in the kitchen. It was reported later that they had attempted to extinguish it  with baking soda. But this was not successful and the fire continued to spread quickly.

In the Sunday morning service at the Hedley Grace Church, Pastor Graham Gore, former manager of the Fire Department advised “the best way to extinguish a grease fire is to smother it with a blanket. Never throw water on a grease fire. It just makes it spread more rapidly.”

House destroyed by fire. Photo by Gary Lecomte.
House destroyed by fire. Photo by Gary Lecomte.

Unfortunately the building was not covered by insurance. Several organizations in town are raising money for the family. There is a jar for donations at the Hedley Country Market. The Seniors’ Center and the Hedley Grace church are also inviting contributions. The church has pledged a donation of $200.00 and members are adding to it. Lydia Sawicki has also set up an account for donations to be made directly to Amy by etransfer at amyschindel1008@gmail.com Although several outbuildings were saved, the fire entirely destroyed the main structure.

Church Kitchen Serves More Than Soup

Kitchen volunteers Helga, Kathy, Joanne & Mike
Kitchen volunteers Helga, Kathy, Joanne & Mike

Last week Linda and I visited the soup kitchen run by the Keremeos Community Church. We were sitting at a table with Mike Andersen, a man with the physique of a heavy weight boxer, but not the intimidating demeanor. “The 4 men on the other side of the room wouldn’t have eaten today if they had not come in,” he said. He smiled and waved to a couple walking through the door, then turned back to us. “We serve soup to the community every Thursday. Some come because they’re hungry. Others hope someone will accept them and listen to them. People also come to support us in showing a friendly face and outreached hand to the community. We’re happy to feed them all.”

Looking around, I saw microphones along one side of the spacious room, an indication that on Sundays this is a worship area. Today casually dressed people of all ages were sitting at 4 long tables, chatting animatedly and laughing. A few men wore caps, suggesting the dress code is relaxed. People seemed at ease, enjoying the company and the soup.

I had sensed the welcoming atmosphere the moment we walked through the door. Kathy greeted us warmly and guided us to a table. She returned with bowls of steaming chicken vegetable soup. Also a bun, coffee, and dessert. She rises early each soup day and bakes the delicious white buns.

Mike Andersen
Mike Andersen

Mike, a farmer for 20 years, has broken horses and trained trail horses. He still rides his large sturdy mule. This morning he had arrived at the kitchen at 8:00 to prepare the soup. “The vegetables we use are fresh,” he said. “We comply with all Health Branch regulations.” Noticing that my bowl was empty he asked, “would you like a re-fill?”

The volunteers running the kitchen are a committed and diverse lot. Joanne said, “I’ve been where some of the people are. The church rescued our family. Now I want to give something back. It’s good to see people low in life feeling loved and accepted.” It was her first day in the kitchen.

George Spencer
George Spencer

Like Mike, George Spencer has been there from the beginning. Before Keremeos, he worked 40 years as a bartender and waiter in a Vancouver hotel. “Alcohol, crack cocaine and crystal meth ruled my life those days,” he told us. “I had tried recovery programs without success. It was God who delivered me. I came to Keremeos to escape that scene. I agreed to come to this church only if my dog was allowed in. That was ok with the church.” Once introverted, he laughingly gives slinging beer credit for preparing him to interact easily with the people who come for soup.

There’s a story behind each person who comes in,” Mike said. “Some have serious needs.

Today a young man walked out with a jacket that was donated this morning. Some rarely get out of their home, except when they come here. Everyone needs to feel accepted and loved.”

A donation box is placed in the opening to the kitchen, not where people will easily see it. “There’s no requirement to put anything in,” George said. “Those who can usually do. Also, some ladies from local churches contribute desserts. We get financial help from individuals and businesses. Valu Plus donates food. Our costs are pretty much covered.”

The emphasis seems not to be on proselytizing. “We just want to reach out to people and touch their lives,” George said. “It’s by our example we want to show them the love of Jesus.” I noticed a couple wave at him as they were about to walk out the door. He smiled and waved, then turned his attention back to us. “Sometimes people are dealing with difficult situations and they ask us to pray for them.”

They’ve been serving meals to 40 to 50 people between 11 am and 1 pm two days a week since February of this year. Mondays it’s sandwiches and Thursdays it’s soup and a bun. For Christmas Day they will move their operation to the more spacious Seniors Centre and serve a special meal to individuals who need a place where they will feel welcome and not be alone.

We found the excitement of the soup kitchen volunteers contagious and uplifting. Judging by the ebb and flow of voices and laughter, they are providing much more than just physical nourishment.