Sunshine, Sister or Ma, whatever the ladies behind a free weekly breakfast are affectionately called by those who use the service, it doesn’t matter.
As long as everyone obeys their rules. That is, be respectful and leave with a full belly.
“We welcome everyone and don’t turn anyone away,” said Norma Hill. “That is kind of the neat thing about this we see people of all ages, races, backgrounds. Everyone should leave full and that is a good day for us because we know that at least they got one good meal today and they were safe while they were here.”
It was by chance Hill met Pastor Pete Harris, who is also known as the street pastor in Penticton, while out on her morning walk. He called her over to join a group he was speaking to and serving food on a cold morning near Gyro Park. Ruth Hilaria also joined to volunteer and about two years ago they found salvation from the cold in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. It has grown from serving 10 people outside to upwards of 100.
Every Tuesday Michael Pratt makes the trek from Summerland to Penticton by bus without fail to volunteer his time even if that is to wash dishes and clean.
“I’ve been around the block and know how it is to feel like you are constantly walking up a hill with a strong wind in your face and snow on the ground and you need a lift up,” said Pratt. “I try and volunteer as much as I can because of that. It also gives me something to look forward to.”
It is because of the tireless efforts of the volunteers that anyone can drop into the St. Andrew’s Church on a Tuesday morning to get a hot meal, receive a friendly smile or just sit down and talk with others.
Earlier this month there was a free flu shot clinic and sometimes social or mental health workers will drop in to sit and talk with people. Occasionally they will get a pastor in to speak with those who want it, but there is no pressure.
“Just because it has been called God’s Kitchen by some, doesn’t necessarily mean it is all about religion. This is a place for people to come in, eat and feel safe,” said Pratt.
The facility is donated by the church and monetary donations mostly come out of the volunteers pockets as they are not a registered charity. For that reason they welcome donations of food items. Already they receive bread from Unity Hall and sometimes those who use the service will bring day-old food they have gathered from Penticton grocery stores that then is turned into a hot meal.
The women, while taking a break from their duties, joke about who is the best chef. It is decided Judy West comes up with the best creations. West said she has only just recently joined the group but is surprised of the amount of people in the small town who rely on the breakfast.
The volunteers say the need has grown for more food as there has been a significant increase by the amount of people who drop in.
“There has been a lot more this year than past years and that seems to be the matter for a bunch of services around town like Inn from the Cold who had an increase so far this year,” said Hilaria. “We have noticed there are a lot more seniors coming here and families with small children.”
But the volunteers stretch their limits of what they can do with the food they have to ensure there is a hot, nutritious meal to feed all who need it.
Sitting around a table enjoying what was left in their bowls and plates last Tuesday morning a few of the men were talking about what the service some have dubbed God’s Kitchen means to them.
“I always look forward to Tuesdays,” said one man who preferred to go by his street name, Gator. “I get a hot meal and full belly. For me there is no place like home, and this feels like home.”
Anyone looking to donate food items or have clothes that can be dropped off are asked to phone 778-476-2617.