Organizer behind unique meal train program for homeless hopes to make it a permanent Kamloops fixture | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Organizer behind unique meal train program for homeless hopes to make it a permanent Kamloops fixture

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July 18, 2020 - 6:00 AM

For more three months, an impromptu meal service for homeless people in Kamloops has relied on the generosity of the community to keep running.

The Kamloops Covid Meal Train was started at the end of March when other meal services had to halt due to pandemic restrictions. Now, the organizer has realized he’s got to keep this service going, pandemic or not.

“It’s a challenge. We have to think very creatively about how to involve every sector of the community to sustain this project as it stands right now,” Kamloops Covid Meal Train coordinator Glenn Hilke says. “One way or another, with or without the stamp of approval from the City, this is something that has to go forward.”

When the meal train started, it was operated through Facebook. A group of followers would volunteer to shop for groceries, prepare and package meals and drive around town to find people in need.

The volunteers have continued to donate their time and resources while the volume of people being fed increased exponentially.

“When we first started I think we were doing 50 to 75 meals a day, and we’ve been averaging 250 meals a day between breakfast and lunch for a while now,” Hilke says. “I would say from the perspective of the recipients, there’s been a clear establishment of a feeling of trust, confidence and assurance that ‘somebody is going to find me at some point tomorrow and I’ll have something to eat.’”

The reason for the increase in meals being distributed is due in part to drivers becoming familiar with where to find street entrenched people. As well, they’ve begun serving people who now may have a roof over their head.

“Over time we’ve identified many people who were food insecure who were actually housed, so there are a lot of people living in motel rooms in Kamloops, either because they can’t afford a regular apartment or they don’t have the quote-unquote references, so what they’re left with is this tenuous kind of housing which is unfortunately really expensive given the space… and these people have very little or no money left for food after they pay their monthly motel fees.”

The drivers now visit six motels per day, and travel in back alleys and other areas where vulnerable people may be living.

“We’ve been getting really heartfelt responses from the recipient of these meals, that there’s people out in the community that acknowledge them, that see them as human beings and don’t think of them of having a sickness attached to them,” Hilke says.

READ MORE: How COVID-19 has helped hungry and homeless in Kamloops get new delivery and to-go food service

Hilke estimates that each meal costs 75 cents to make, with all packaging materials other expenses included. Considering they’ve delivered more than 27,000 meals since their inception, that’s about $20,250 spent feeding the hungry. He says the drivers often don’t take up the offer of reimbursement for the gas they use and the food is paid for by volunteers.

“There’s a woman that shops every two weeks at Costco and she spends $500, so she’s spending $1,000 a month,” Hilke says. “In some cases, there are people who have decided that they want to become advocates and activists in the struggle against poverty and homelessness and lack of housing.”

Pandemic or not, Hilke says this is a program that must carry on in Kamloops to ensure every resident has a chance to eat.

Hilke says there is now a monthly roundtable with representatives from various social service agencies who are trying to work out a feasible way to sustain this project into the future. One of the ways could be through grants and funding, but Hilke has also considered encouraging fast food joints and local restaurant owners to commit to covering a day's worth of food per month.

“Without our breakfast, there’s no breakfast in town, period. And that’s unacceptable,” Hilke says. “Is it acceptable that if the meal train stopped today, that we have no breakfast in town for people?”

If you would like to know more about this project and get involved, check out the Kamloops Covid Meal Train Facebook page here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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