A night delivering food with Stone Soup
It’s about 5:30 p.m. on January 25th as Wisteria Community Association’s Stone Soup van pulls up.
It’s pretty dark already, and getting cold. The two program directors, Doug and Phil, and most of the people who arrive are wearing sweaters and coats. One man pulls off his few layers and, bare-chested, jumps about energetically and drums on the van door.
Everyone knows his name, and no one is concerned. When the man asks for a coffee, Phils asks him to back up to maintain pandemic protocol, and the man apologizes and backs up right away.
“I love that guy,” says Mike during our interview.
Mike is a volunteer with Stone Soup. He’s also homeless, and is fed by Stone Soup.
“Having a hot coffee and a sandwich is a blessing, man,” says Mike. “I'm grateful for these guys, you know. I’m very, very grateful.”
Every night, the Stone Soup program delivers pre-packaged food and coffee to those in need at various locations in Nanaimo, supported by United Way funding through the Government of Canada’s Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy. The Stone Soup van begins its rounds at 5:30 p.m., and on certain days also distributes clothing.
Providing food at this time of night is critical, says Stone Soup director and Wisteria Community Association co-founder Doug.
“Here in Nanaimo, there is not enough food at night,” he says. If folks miss the Salvation Army’s dinner meal, there used to be no other food available. Stone Soup fills that gap, giving people a full belly to help them sleep, or avoid having to travel to get their breakfast in the morning.
“It’s the difference between life and death,” says Ian, a Stone Soup regular.
But Stone Soup does more than provide food.
“Being acknowledged – acceptance, right? That’s what it is,” says Mike.
“They provide … a great atmosphere. A sense of community and belonging,” says Jimbo, another regular. “It’s like [they support] the whole being, the whole person – mental, emotional, spiritual and physical – and Wisteria does that if you want it from them. They will meet all of that, because they care.”
It’s that care that makes it possible for people like Carl to get by.
“When I wake up, I’m depressed right away,” says Carl, who is homeless. “I go, ‘Is it worth it,’ you know? And I have to pep-talk myself. No mirror, with nobody there, you know what I mean. Just me and me.”
“Sometimes I’ll break down and cry, you know, because I just don’t want to do it anymore,” he says. “But I have to.”
“Honestly, mentally and physically, I don’t think I could be all there if it wasn’t for Stone Soup because of the food help,” says Carl. “Honestly, they’ve saved my butt so many times. And I tell Doug that every time. I’m like ‘Without fail, you feed me every time, Doug.’”
This support and care inspires some Stone Soup regulars to give back. Some, like Mike, volunteer with the program. Others collect bottles to provide for the program’s bottle drive, or give what money they can when they can, says Doug.
It’s a community that looks out for each other.
“COVID came, I’ve been out every night except for two nights,” says Doug. “Being out seven days a week, I’ve gotten to know a lot of these people to the point where a lot of them are almost like family.”
It’s that connection and compassion that is pushing Wisteria to do even more. A soup kitchen that can run during the pandemic is in the works, promising to bring warm food to those in need.