NANAIMO — Every night for the last week, more than 100 homeless have gathered in a parking lot on Nicol St. for a hot meal.
The Stone Soup project, run by volunteers with the Wisteria Lane Association, provides food and coffee to the homeless every night. The soup is created by cooks in a full kitchen and much of the food is donated.
Organizer Tanya Hiltz told NanaimoNewsNOW she and others expected roughly 30 people the first night and were shocked and thrilled to see 155 people arrive. In the week since, an average of 130 homeless or people in need showed up.
“We've really started seeing newer faces,” she said. “Some north-enders are coming down. We're also starting to see some families out here with children.”
Hiltz said supporting families is one of their biggest goals with the nightly meals, since it helps relieve stress for multiple people at a time.
Retired chef Michael Hagarty, who makes the soups in large batches with the help of two volunteers, said he was happy to see people in need eating but also sad to see so many people depending on the free nightly meal.
“When you're laying in bed hungry, sometimes you'll get up and get some food. But these people don't have that luxury. They need food as well and if not they might be up all night, not getting a good sleep.”
Looking out at the large numbers sitting at tables in the parking lot, Hagarty said the main initiative now is keeping up momentum and rallying community support, especially getting more helping hands in the kitchen.
“(My helpers) can only do it when they can do it and we can only get a kitchen when we can get one. So we need a few more to help out and pitch in.”
He said making the soups will hopefully only take a few days in a month, since they make sure a large amount at one time and preserve it. He's also hoping to make sandwiches part of the regular menu.
Both Hagarty and Hiltz said they've seen strong response already from the community, with many offering food donations.
Going forward, they said the key donation will be gift cards instead of food, since everything is made ahead of time and they can't guarantee any food dropped off will be usable when they enter the kitchen.
Many of the homeless NanaimoNewsNOW talked to said coming to 150 Nicol St. to eat had become their nightly appointment and drastically improved their lives since they didn't have to go to bed hungry.
When asked what they would do instead to get a meal, many admitted they would've likely stolen food from somewhere and were grateful for the food.
On Twitter: @spencer_sterrit
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