Fighting hunger with Bowls of Hope earns community service award for Mike Csoka

Chilliwack Bowls of Hope Society, he is the 2017 recipient of the UFV Betty Urquhart Community Service award.

We’re not at our best when we’re hungry.

It’s hard to concentrate on what the teacher is saying when your stomach is growling from hunger pangs.

After 30 years working in the corrections field, Mike Csoka knows from experience that the best way to keep people out of the prison system is to help them have a healthy childhood.

So when he thinks about the 750 children a day he helps feed a hot lunch to in Chilliwack, it warms his heart.

READ: Chilliwack Bowls of Hope feeds a need

And the hot bowls of soup he and his fellow volunteers distribute warm the children who receive them.

For his efforts as director of the Chilliwack Bowls of Hope Society, he is the 2017 recipient of the UFV Betty Urquhart Community Service award.

Betty Urquhart was one of the first employees of the university and believed strongly in volunteering and giving back to the community. While Betty passed away in 1995, UFV keeps her memory alive by honouring a person or group exemplifying her commitment to life-long learning and community. The 2017 award was conferred upon Csoka at the UFV retirement event on November 20.

The Chilliwack Bowls of Hope Society started on a small scale.

At the time, Csoka was the director of the newly opened Chilliwack Community Correctional Centre.

“When we brought the correctional centre into downtown Chilliwack, we said we wanted to give back to the community in some way,” Csoka recalls. “One of the local schools, just a few hundred meters from our door, said that they had 17 kids who would benefit from being provided with lunch, so we started providing 17 sandwiches a day.”

Csoka retired from his Corrections career, but kept up the volunteer connection. Now the Bowls of Hope Society operates a soup warmer that can hold 1,000 bowls a soup. Three vans take off in three directions from the site daily, delivering hot soup for 750 children to schools all over Chilliwack.

A released offender now works part time for the society, preparing the soup each morning. The rest of the work is done by volunteers, including inmates of the correctional centre and other citizens.

“It’s a wonderful way of giving back,” says Csoka. “If I can keep even one of those 750 kids out of the correctional system by helping to feed them, then it’s all worth it to me.”

Csoka recalls being a marginalized kid who “could have gone either way” when he was growing up. Caring adults who took an interest in him, in particular sports coaches who were also RCMP members, helped him choose a healthy path and eventually a career in corrections. So in away, he’s paying them back by paying it forward in his volunteer work.

Several community partners have stepped up to support the program, including the Local Harvest market, which grows a field of vegetables just for Bowls of Hope, and local businesses that give employees time to volunteer to deliver the lunches.

READ: Soup service with a smile for Bowls of Hope

Some of the released offenders who are now employed donate funds to help pay for the program. There are more than 120 volunteers in total.

Csoka estimates he puts about 25 hours a week into the Bowls of Hope program, but it doesn’t feel like work for him.

“We get letters from kids thanking us for the lunches, or I hear about one of them graduating who the teachers say wouldn’t have made it through without our hot lunches, and it makes it all worth it,” says Csoka.

He says he’s humbled to be singled out for the Betty Urquhart award, and that he’s accepting it on the part of all the Bowls of Hope Society volunteers.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Provincial government responds to Ryder Lake bad internet complaints

Anne Kang, Minister of Citizens’ Services, responded to a pair of letters sent to Victoria

Chilliwack Search and Rescue kept busy on B.C. Day long weekend

Six callouts in 10 hours Friday continued a trend of more outdoor enthusiasts needing help in 2020

Fraser Valley Bandits release top forward Cameron Forte

A team leader through four games of the CEBL Summer Series, Forte has been cut loose

The Happy Hiker, Art Lengkeek, recognized with bench and plaque on Mount Cheam trail

The 88 year old is a familiar sight on trails throughout the Fraser Valley and beyond

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Fraser Valley Bandits clinch playoff spot with win

Bandits down Niagara River Lions 70-57 on Sunday, improve to 3-2

Alleged impaired driver sparks small wildfire near Lytton after crash: B.C. RCMP

Good Samaritans prevented the blaze from getting out of control

Travel restrictions inspiring co-operation in border communities

Small border towns are asking for exemption to travel ban

B.C. First Nation adopts ‘digital twinning’ software to better manage territory

Software allows users to visualize what a mountain might look like if the trees on its slopes were logged

All inquiry recommendations implemented after fatal Port Hardy RCMP shooting: Ministry

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. cleared the RCMP officers involved of wrongdoing

VIDEO: One wounded in Maple Ridge gun battle

Two vehicles reportedly traded shots while driving down street

Most Read