The Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries wants to spread its community meal program around town, helping lighten the load on the building and neighbourhood.
To do that, the Salvation Army is looking for partners to host a meal one or more nights a week. Offering different locations to serve meals could mean more people accessing the program.
“We are open to different ideas,” said Darrell Pilgrim, with the Salvation Army. “We could cook the meals and have them served somewhere else.”
The charity has been discussing the issue with several groups for the past six weeks, but no agreements have been reached.
The Salvation Army has been running the community meal service since 2009, serving lunch and dinner to a maximum of 175 people each time.
In a month, 400 different people will get a free meal at the building on 222nd Street and Lougheed Highway.
Dispersing that program, which attracts 100 or so people twice a day, to other parts of the city will ease pressure on the adjacent neighbourhood, Pilgrim said.
“That’s one of the reasons there’s so much strain on our neighbourhood and building,” he added.
“This is not coming from any external pressure. This is from an internal decision on what we think is the best to serve our community.”
He pointed out that most people who are served meals are housed and are either on disability or are working. And 42 per cent are over the age of 50.
The meal program costs the Salvation Army about $75,000 a year in food supplies, not counting staff costs.
Over the course of a year, the Salvation Army serves about 100,000 meals, working out to a cost of less than a loonie for each one.
“We’re more than willing to provide those meals. We’re just looking for other locations to do it,” Pilgrim said.
“We feel that it would be a benefit for the people who come to our meals if they were dispersed throughout the community.”
Former Maple Ridge councillor Candace Gordon, who operates community kitchens program that teach people how to cook cheaply, said the Salvation Army won’t abandon the meal service if it can’t find partners.
“Their intention is to not leave the community in the lurch, but they’re actually in the process of transferring it to other organizations. They’re not going to stop it cold.”
She said the community meal program is a needed one.
“It feeds a lot of people lunch and dinner every day. And most of them are just poor. They’re not homeless. It’s a major pillar in the community,” Gordon said.
Golden Ears United Church already serves meals on Saturday nights, which gives the Salvation Army a break.
Gordon said the Salvation Army is refocusing its shelter services and making changes.
“I think they did a magnificent job in our community, providing food for lots of people who needed it, for many years.”
She said people find it increasingly difficult to buy food as prices continually rise, and that people will try their best to hold on to their living places before anything else.
“But they don’t have enough money for everything else and food is often what is sacrificed.”
Coun. Gordy Robson questions having the meals at different locations every night and said they should be moved around for longer periods of time.
Maple Ridge council, last year, called for B.C. Housing to cut the $1 million it gives the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries yearly to operate its 25-bed emergency shelter.