Few things are more important than feeding people, and Cathy Smith has taken that to heart.
Smith is the coordinator for the Campbell River United Church’s soup kitchen program, which provides weekend lunches to people in need in Campbell River. The group has been working in the city since 2002, mainly out of the Radiant Life Church building near the downtown fire hall. However, that building was sold in 2020, which left the future of the program in jeopardy.
“The only thing we could do was serve outside. In that time period where the building was closed, COVID hit and for the first little while, nobody was serving anything on weekends,” Smith said. “We thought ‘this is silly, these people need to eat.’”
They bounced around to different locations, mostly outside during the summer months of 2020. However, as the weather got cooler they needed to find a place to go inside.
“The (Hama?Elas) community kitchen opened up, which made everybody very happy because we could get the clients inside in the winter and out of the weather, and it was also a nice kitchen that we could serve out of,” she said.
Smith has always felt a need to help people. She has volunteered for her whole life, from local events to teaching English in China for a decade after retiring, to being a medical laboratory technician.
“I just love helping people. It gives me satisfaction to know that maybe I’m helping someone in their life. It’s really rewarding to hear from students how we influence their life,” she says. “A simple thank you means the world to us that we could help someone in some small way.”
Helping feed people is just the latest instance of that drive to help people.
“Just knowing that people are getting good nutritious food, (and have) a place to come that’s warm in the winter, it’s satisfying to know that these people are not going hungry.”
While just providing a meal is enough, Smith said the soup kitchen and other programs for vulnerable populations has a bigger impact than just feeding a few people.
“The people out there are really looking after each other,” she said. “We had a couple of incidents when we were out on the streets where people would start disagreeing, and the other ones would come break it up and be there as support.
“I was really impressed with how they are looking after themselves. With the overdoses, everybody is carrying the Naloxone kits and adminstrating them to each other. It’s nice to see that community within themselves,” she continued. “They do all have the food insecurities, so we’re trying to fill that gap for them. Now that they have the landuromat and the shower and the toilet (Kwesa Place), that’s really a bonus for Campbell River.”
The soup kitchen is just one of Smith’s many volunteer initiatives. She is also very involved with the breakfast program at Pinecrest Elementary School, where the United Church provides meals to children who come to school hungry. She has also volunteered with the blood clinic and with Citizens on Patrol.
Smith could not do this without her team at the soup kitchen.
“We’re in it together and we all have our little jobs that we do and get the people fed,” she said. “They’re happy. We just all work together well.”