Kristine Shepherd (right) and a volunteer dish up a plate of hot food for the less fortunate at a previous Monday Night Dinner in Nanaimo Square. The volunteer-run meal program is moving back to the square for the winter, but Mayor John Vassilaki would rather see it move inside somewhere. (Mark Brett - Western News)

Friction persists between Penticton mayor and Monday Night Dinners

The dinners are moving back to Nanaimo Square, but should be moved inside instead says mayor

Monday Night Dinners are moving back to Penticton’s Nanaimo Square for the winter, but it seems there is still some friction between the volunteer meal providers and the city’s elected officials.

At the end of the Nov. 5 council meeting, Mayor John Vassilaki shared with the rest of council that he had recently volunteered at the Penticton Soupateria, out of St. Saviours Church, the volunteer-run meal service providing food to the city’s less fortunate. He elaborated that he supports all of the programs in the community trying to relieve the ongoing homelessness crisis through meal providing, but that these groups should be following the Soupateria’s lead in finding an appropriate space to do so.

“To go to a place like that (Soupateria) and see how many people come in, you really appreciate the need for such a facility in the city. Not only for the soup kitchen, but for other meals that are served within the community, but I believe that such meals should be served indoors and not out on the street,” said Vassilaki. “And therefore, those that are planning to start again on Nanaimo Square, I think they better, maybe along with the help of the city and other groups in the community, find an indoor facility for that to take place, rather than out on the street where there’s no washrooms. It’s not the cleanest place on Earth.”

READ MORE: Penticton group serving dinner to the less fortunate has to move

Kristine Shepherd, the lead organizer behind Monday Night Dinners, said she would be happy to see the program move to an indoor facility but that is easier said than done. Earlier this year, the group came under fire for occupying the public space in Nanaimo Square and was asked by the Downtown Penticton Association and the City of Penticton to find a new place to host it’s one-night-a-week meal progam.

As a result, the group has been utilizing the space next to Sunrise Pharmacy, located at 749 Main St. But Shepherd said with the winter months approaching and the time change making it dark earlier in the day, it just isn’t suitable to continue using that space due to its lack of lighting.

“We would love to be indoors, let’s not kid ourselves here. But that’s just not a possibility for us right now, nobody has come forward and said that they want to help us out. We have spoken to a few entities in the past and nothing has ever panned out,” said Shepherd. “The notion that I should go to a church, it’s not easy for an atheist girl to go to a church and ask for use of their property when you don’t believe in their deity.”

Shepherd was shocked to hear that the dinners were brought up at the recent council meeting and said she would have appreciated an invitation to the meeting so that she could discuss the matter with council directly. She did note that the dinner program is seeing less patrons with the recent opening of supportive housing.

“(Mayor Vassilaki) is acting like he cares that we are outside, but let’s be frank, if we stayed at the pharmacy he would have no issues,” said Shepherd. “He is only bringing this up because we’re moving back to Nanaimo Square.”

Shepherd said the program is always looking for volunteers to help serve meals, and they are specifically seeking donations for their upcoming Christmas dinner on Dec. 23 including a turkey or ham and stuff to add into the Christmas bags she does up for the patrons. For more information about Monday Night Dinners, visit their Facebook page.

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Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
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