I'm taking a morning walk. It is a cold, gray and drizzly November day in 2003. He's sitting in his usual spot just outside the liquor store wrapped in his filthy white poncho with his white dog lying close by him on the cold concrete sidewalk. I bend down and give St Nicolas a friendly pat on the head and he wags his tail lethargically.
"Morning Reverand Harry"
"Hi Donny, How's it going ?"
" OK, kinda hungry though, and St Nick here isn't feeling good either - must be the cold."
" Can I get you a sub from next door?"
"Oh, that's great! And maybe an extra bit for old St Nick?"
" Thanks, man. You're a good man."
I return with a hot submarine sandwich and a cup of hot coffee for the " down and out" daft dodger, and an extra bun for the dog. I also get myself a coffee, and we sit in silence for a while as he eats and shares the meat filings of his sandwich with St Nick.
" You know what would be really good, Reverend Harry?"
"No, Donny, But you'll tell me right?"
" Well, this is really nice, sharing a coffee and having a good sandwich - you're a good man."
"Sure Donny but...?"
Well it's kinda cold, man, and it would be good if there could be this place inside where we could warm up a little once in a while without spending a bunch of money."
" OK, Donny, let me think about it."
Coming back to the church, I made a few phone calls to people whom I think will be interested in helping set up some way to meet Donny's needs - and that of many other homeless people in town, and two days later Mr Bill, Andy the Pizzaman, Lynda, Richard, two Bobs and I sit around the fire in the basement of the rectory in Sooke. I repeat the conversation I had with Donny and my thoughts about maybe setting up something for him and the others living on the street. Maybe we can open a drop-in centre or soup kitchen type of thing in the church basement?
" Let's do it" is the immediate concensus and I see that I have picked the right people.
" Shouldn't we set up some sort of plnning committee and talk to the church council first?"
" Naw , that will just slow things down and keep it from happening."
" Can we do it now?"
" If we don't I'll take the idea somewhere else," is Andy's challenge.
" Right. Do we go for it?" " Yes!" is the unanimous vote.
" OK, I'll ask for forgiveness later."
The next week Friday noon, with the slightly reluctant permission from the church council, the "Vital Vittles Cafe" opens in the church basement - with the rich savory scent of the soup seeping into every nook and cranny of the little church building. A very happy team has pulled together tomake and fill sandwiches, we have coffee and juice, and weare open for bussiness.
Within a few weeks the number of guests served are numbered in the dozens and over the course of the next months the Vital Vittles Cafe is to become an institution in the town everyone knows about. An enthusiastic group of individuals and bussinesses contribute food, time, and energy. At one of the Christmas dinners there were so many volunteers wanting to help that Lynda was kept scrambling for the whole mealtime trying to find things for people to do - people wanted to be part of this Vital Vittles happening.
The modest "Soup and Sandwich" menu we first envisioned is soon surpassed. While there is still soup most Fridays - always homemade, this is supplemented with a wide variety of other good stuff to eat, as every Friday morning a group prepared the meal of the day, taking whatever has been offered during the week, and there were always several tasty choices for the guests, with something new being offered every week.
There is always a salad, always a soup, and always a sumptuous desert often donated by the local Vienna Bakery. There is usually even dog food for old St Nick and others dogs visiting to Vital Vittles.
Lynda is the prime food and people organizer and welcoming hostess and the whole process centers on her tireless graciousness and hard work. Mr Bill and I usually hang around the diningarea or outside talking to the guests.
Bob declared himself the official dish washer. Andy helps gather and supply food and donates enough pizzas for everyone once a month. Don and Jim, Mary and Cathy and Ian, Richard, Kit and Roz, Leo, Cy, Broc, Shirley, Tony and Judy, all at one time or another give of themselves generously. Ruth visits with the guests and provides hands-on support for those with problems with welfare and other social service offices.
Sooke mayor Janet Evans is a great supporter of VV, and it is not uncommon for her to stop in and either help serve food or mingle with the guests. Our MP, Keith Martin, and our MLA Brian Kerr, also make several appearances. The Rev'd Al Tysick and Bob Frank from the Open Door (now Our Place) in Victoria, frequently drop in, offer moral support and donate food. Gil from the Sooke Food Bank faithfully comes by on Friday mornings to donate a variety of foods.
It is important for us that "Vital Vittles" becomes a community, pulling together different people who might otherwise avoid each other. To help with this we agree that everyone helping with the project is also expected to take their own lunch break and eat with the guests. And it doesn't take long for the barriers to begin to drop, andwhithin a very short time there is joy and there is hope and there is "family".
Some people come to just hang out, others come because this is one of the few - or only - nutritious meal of their week. Some take their children out of school so they can have a good meal, and bring younger children, and we set up a children's play area so the parents can have a break and visit with other adults. Others come, not out of financial need, but because it is just a good place to be.
The church is open upstairs and Donny or Dan accompany Sara as she sings her beautiful songs after they have eaten. Some gather outside on the grass and sit in a circle talking and smoking - and soon a couple of picnic tables mysteriously appear on the lawn. And sometimes someone just sits in the church to sence the presence of God, and sometimes people come and askme to talk or pray with them.
Several Edward Milne High School students become involved, helping out withfood preparation and serving, as part of their "work experiance" program. A delightful group of young people, doing job search through Sooke Works, come and work with us - checking out their liking for the food service industry. Others come and help, saying that they are grateful that we are providing an oppertunity for them to help others.
After the fire destroyed the church in 2005, VV is welcomed to the Sooke Family Resource Centre, and the volunteers are so dedicated that not one week is skipped - the operations continued without missing a beat.
As I stand in wonder at the gift given here to us all, that in the words and actions of Donnyin Sooke, one from the lowestrungs of society, we can see and hear the voice of Jesus.
Be careful who you talk to out there.
This story is passed on to you in memory of those involved in VV, both as Volunteers and as Guests, who are no longer with us.
VITAL VITTLES 10TH ANNIVERSARY 21 NOV. 2013
Matthew 35:25 for I was hungry and ye gave me meat. I was thirsty and ye gave me drink. I was a stranger and ye took me in.
The Vital Vittles Free Cafe as it was referred to back then, began in response to a simple comment made during a conversation between Rev. Harry Eerkes and Donny6, a Sooke street personality, found most days, with St. Nicolas, his dog, outside the liquor store. “Well its’ kind of cold man, and it would be good if there could be this place inside where we could warm up a little once in a while without spending a bunch of money.”
The response was instant and a week later, with slightly reluctant permission from the HT church council, Vital Vittles Free Cafe opened for the first time on Nov. 21, 2003 in the church basement. During that first year, support came from many directions such as local businesses: Andy’s Two for One Pizza and Little Vienna Bakery, the Sooke Mayor, local MLA, MP, Sooke Food bank members etc. Truly a community working together to help others.
After fire destroyed Holy Trinity Church in 2005, Vital Vittles was welcomed to the Sooke Family Resource Centre where the meal continued every Friday. When the newly built church opened two years later, Vital Vittles moved back immediately. The brand new, fully modern industrial style kitchen made everything easier for the volunteers.
The first coordinator was Lynda Rose, 2003-05, next was Shirley Roodbol, 2005-12, next Deacon Wally Eamer until 2014 when our present coordinator, Pam Day, took over.
Financial assistance comes from amazing places, The Celtic Circle of Sooke Society gives generous support, and in the last two years two large anonymous donations from a Vancouver visitor, the first of these came at a time when the bank account was down to $100! The Lord works in mysterious way, his wonders to perform!
On November 21, 2013 Vital Vittles celebrated its 10th anniversary and continues to be a successful outreach program in the community, providing warmth, company, acceptance, support, fun and laughter. 2013 was the 100th anniversary of Holy Trinity and Vital Vittles has been part of its ministry for a tenth of that time period, still available from 11:30 until 1:00pm every Friday, and still serving soup, salad, main course dessert, fruit, hot or cold beverage. Volunteers come and go but are always dedicated and hard working, fun loving, caring team players and above all community minded. In the past five years we have had young volunteers from Canada World Youth, a liaison between Canada and Africa.
Everyone is welcome at Vital Vittles, so drop by and join us for lunch. If you would like to volunteer or make a donation check with Pam Day.
In the words of Rev. Harry Eerkes, who passed away in Oct. 2012 “And I stand in wonder at the gift given here to us all, that in the words and actions of Donny one of Sooke’s poorest residents we see and hear the voice of Jesus.”