When you think of a soup kitchen, you might picture a line-up of hungry people, rows of tables and a hot bowl of soup. But The Salvation Army’s Manna Café in Gananoque, Ont., provides a different approach―a bistro style environment―which allows the hungry to dine with dignity. This relaxed atmosphere also allows The Salvation Army an opportunity to address the deeper needs within the community.
“We wanted to get away from the typical soup-kitchen format that serves street people and those less fortunate,” says Dave Harvey, Executive Director. “The café has the feeling of a living room with a few kitchen tables and comfortable easy chairs. It’s a place where everyone is welcome to enjoy a meal and conversation.”
Open five days a week, every month the café attracts a mixed group of 1,200 guests that include seniors on fixed incomes, the working poor, the lonely, people with disabilities and the unemployed. For many, the meals are a time for socialization, to meet new friends and stay in touch with familiar faces.
“Each meal is home-made and designed with health in mind,” says Harvey. “We focus on nutrition and sustenance.”
Harvey and his team of volunteer chefs, servers and greeters have worked hard to ensure that the program is more than a meal. It’s community―a group of people who share something in common.
“When you are part of a community it’s easier to work through life and its challenges,” says Harvey. “This program allows us to develop relationships and discover deeper needs our guests may face. For example, we’ve provided winter coats for children who didn’t have one, Christmas hampers that provided a full turkey dinner, help with hydro bills so people could put food on the table and more,” says Harvey.
“At the end of the day if we can help one person to feel better about themselves and their situation, then we’ve done what we’ve set out to do.”