The organizer of the Monday Night Dinners at Nanaimo Square is challenging Penticton city council to put their words into action.
“I’d like to invite the city council down for Monday night dinner on Easter Monday. I’m going to do a big ham dinner and I’m hoping to get some of the city councillors involved with making the side dishes,” said Kristine Shepherd. “Let’s make this a community event and let’s show the less fortunate in the community that the powers that be do care about them.
“It would make the people coming to the dinners feel good knowing that these people actually care, that they don’t just say that they care in meetings and they’re actually putting their money where their mouth is. So I invite them to come down and join us, bring some peas and carrots and mashed potatoes.”
Shepherd launched the program three years ago and relies on community donations and volunteers to provide weekly warm meals to those less fortunate. In October 2017, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen issued a report that two directors, Penticton Coun. Judy Sentes and then Area F Director Michael Brydon believed the program should be shut down by Interior Health for safety concerns.
“I’m not sure what safety meant. Like the people at the dinners are unsafe? Or safety like food safety? I don’t know which one it is. But these people are digging out of dumpsters so is that any better than me cooking them a meal? I’ve been doing this for three winters and I’ve only had to call the cops once,” said Shepherd. “There’s no drugs down there, I don’t allow it. I don’t allow drinking. If they’re going to do that stuff they have to go do that somewhere else.”
Shepherd said the program continues to grow with increased donations and more and more people accessing its services. She said from now until the end of summer, she expects to see a steady increase in those looking for a hot meal.
“It’s starting to pick up now that it’s starting to warm up a bit and it’s actually sunny at 5 p.m.,” said Shepherd. “We get less people when it’s dark and cold. We’re also starting to get lots of donations. I talked at the Pecha Kucha event and got a really good response from that. We were also at the Loving Mugs event at the Penticton Art Gallery and got a lot of response from that so a few more volunteers and a few more donators.”
Penticton resident Jaimie Miller-Haywood recently took advantage of the new Facebook feature which allows users to raise funds for charity on their birthdays. With the help of the community, she celebrated her birthday on March 1 and over the next few days by raising $1,500 to help with Shepherd’s efforts.
“The first goal of $500, we reached in like four hours. So then I bumped it up to $1,000 and that took a day or two and I just kind of kept going,” said Miller-Haywood. “I really wanted to hit $1,500 by March 8 and we hit that goal within a day or two.
“I was absolutely shocked, right from the very beginning of the fundraiser. I’ve never done something like this before. I didn’t know what to expect and thought I might get a few bucks here and there from friends and family. But I was so surprised with the huge donations that came from absolute strangers. I have no idea who they are or their involvement.”
Shepherd greatly appreciates Miller-Haywood’s efforts and said the money will go towards groceries, purchasing sleeping bags and backpacks and potentially purchasing a hot plate to keep food warm while they are serving it. She said, unlike the city’s initiative to help these residents with the kindness meter, all funds raised for the Monday Night Dinners at Nanaimo Square have an immediate and tangible impact.
“They encourage you to put money in that meter instead of giving it to panhandlers. But they are asking for money now because they need it now,” said Shepherd. “They can’t wait until whoever has gone through and counted the money and doles it out to different charities. They are panhandling because they need the money now. It completely defeats the purpose.
“With the dinners, there’s a weekly impact, it’s every week. You donate, you get to see what it does every week.”
Shepherd said she has been in contact recently with Sentes, who offered to come down and help with the dinners. She hopes that this invitation to all of city council will be the push they need to come and meet the people that this program helps.
“Every three to six months I invite everyone on council, doesn’t matter which Monday, just come down and talk to these people. They are still part of our community,” said Shepherd. “So far the only person that has shown up before and after the election (in October 2018) is Coun. Frank Regehr.”
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