Saturday Manna shaved to the bone in downtown Chilliwack
A soup kitchen program called Saturday Manna is being reduced to once a month in Chilliwack — down from four times a month.
Manna volunteers in the downtown core have been lovingly preparing nutritious hot lunches for the hungry, on a rotating basis at downtown Chilliwack churches, since 1998.
They often fed crowds of 150 hungry people.
Manna got started after a local resident spotted someone dumpster diving for food, and decided no one should have to do that when there were local parishioners willing to help.
In its heyday there were five churches proudly offering Manna: Cooke's Presbyterian, St. Thomas Anglican, Christ Lutheran, Chilliwack United and St. Mary's.
Then it was down to four, when St. Mary's could no longer keep it up, going on two years ago.
It is always a huge undertaking to prepare and serve Saturday Manna, requiring many volunteers and significant donations from local merchants.
But after April 1, the United Church will be the only one left, offering a midday meal to those in need on the weekends.
They also pack fruit and bread to go, and offer free clothing.
"We hope we won't be the only ones doing it for too long," said Iva Hancock, Saturday Manna coordinator at Chilliwack United.
She's been helping out with Manna for 10 years, as a volunteer before stepping up to coordinate the program.
At a recent church council meeting, the volunteers at United Church decided to carry on and continue with the soup kitchen tradition, cognizant that the other three churches would not be following suit.
"I think the other volunteers are just getting older as we all do. Coordinators couldn't be replaced. It's a fair amount of work," said Hancock.
Service clubs and non-profits are seeing similar examples of volunteer attrition.
They feel most fortunate to still have a pool of active volunteers numbering "35 kind souls," Hancock says, who work in teams to put on the midday Saturday meal.
Where will the hungry and hurting get lunch on the weekends on those other Saturdays now?
"I don't know," she replied quietly. "We hope some of the other churches will step in at this point.
"We'd be happy to share information with anyone who may be interested in continuing."
Donna Goldstone, who was Parish Coordinator at St. Thomas Anglican, said they offered their last Saturday Manna soup kitchen a couple of weeks ago.
"I really loved doing it, but I'll be fine. Ending it gradually seemed like the thing to do. We've all done this for too long, as we're all in our 80s."
Goldstone said she had to step down after facing some health issues.
"We decided we would take one more turn at lunch and that would be it," she explained. "My doctor said I had to quit right now."
Some of the St. Thomas volunteers, when they knew Manna was coming to an end, approached some of the other churches to carry on the tradition.
"Nobody else could take it on. It was too big of a commitment."
There's still hope other groups might step forward to fill in the gaps.
"We're not too worried."
The next Manna at United is on March 29.