Roland Hamilton ladles out a bowl of fish chowder.
It’s 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and soon the little room at the back of the Bear River Legion will be packed with people. Spoons will clink on bowls. Laughter and conversation are guaranteed. The aroma of that fish chowder already fills the place.
For Hamilton, this is what it’s all about. That’s why he didn’t hesitate when Julie McFadyen asked him to help sponsor the Bear River Community Kitchen.
“The fact that somebody is trying to do something to help the elderly, the seniors, and support a community,” he says of McFadyen. “That’s what I’m about – people and community.”
Hamilton worries that some people may be going without, particularly older people, and he’s also concerned about social isolation in rural areas.
“I would like for other people to take a look and see what’s going on here and say ‘she’s (McFadyen) making a difference, and it can happen other places,’” he says. “Because we have seniors, we have elderly, we have people who need places like this where they can come and get a warm meal regardless of whether it’s summer, winter, spring, or fall.”
And it gets people out and about.
“It gets people up and moving,” he says. “It helps our young people see that there’s more to life than sitting at a computer.”
It all started when the Bear River Legion applied for a provincial job creation grant to increase its exposure as a community partner invested in all members of the community and not just veterans.
McFadyen has more than 15 years of experience in the social service field with expertise working in mental health, advocacy, government and social programs, as well as with previous community kitchens. She was seeking a position that utilized her skills and interest in human services.
It was a perfect fit.
The kitchen has been running Tuesdays for almost two months and people are coming out. While certain demographics might benefit more than others from the nutritional and social aspects of the kitchen, everybody is welcome and she encourages the more mobile to bring more housebound friends and relatives. And if you want to be a volunteer driver you’ll get a free bowl of soup.
Like Hamilton, she sees what social isolation can do. And it doesn’t just affect the elderly. She sees the impacts with people in depression and people in grief.
“Grief is one of the things that I’ve studied quite a bit, especially the seniors that are grieving,” she says. “They’re lost. They’re drowning and they need support. I’ve had people come in here and if there’s nobody around they’ll sit and chat with me. For some reason they feel comfortable with me. They share their pain. I’ve heard so many stories that I want to go home and cry sometimes because people are so lonely. The loneliness is crazy.”
“Our first kitchen we had 23 paying customers,” she says. “For now, we’re making a soup. Every week we make a soup. Sometimes I will get on Facebook and say, ‘tell me what your favourite soup is.’ The most votes get made. I had a lot of requests for fish chowder so I thought I would make it this week. I’m hoping that it’s a good choice.”
Regardless of the kind of soup, the vibe is good.
“To me it feels like community. I see people coming in and sitting and chatting,” she says. “There are people that work in Bear River. There are people that live in Bear River. I’ve had a few from outside the community, but I believe that’s because we’ve been advertising in Annapolis and Digby.”
She believes it’s going to take a little while for people to understand this is for the community and not just for people who need a good meal.
“That’s the vibe I’m going for – a community congregation area where anybody can feel comfortable coming in and those who can’t afford to eat can walk in and enjoy a bowl of soup without any kind of embarrassment or fear,” she says.
“Bear River is not just Bear River itself,” says Hamilton. “It’s Annapolis County and it’s Digby County, so it has a vast array of people that it can draw from. We’ve just got to get the people outside of Bear River to understand that it’s for them also.”
So far Hamilton’s sponsorship through his company Hamilton’s Eel Fishery is the only major cash donation with an ongoing commitment, but there has been support from local businesses such as Superstore in Digby and The Independent in Annapolis.
Was that fish chowder a success?
“Community Kitchen was a great success today,” McFadyen says on Facebook later in the day. “We ran out of soup. Community Kitchen is something new and different. It’s not just a soup kitchen but a place where friends meet up, ideas are shared, and community is supported. All are welcome. Bring a friend. We are already working on other projects that will support members of the community. I am so grateful to be a part of it all.”
It runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Tuesday. Soup and a biscuit are $ 3. For those who are struggling, thanks to a token program, their lunch is free.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Bear River Community Kitchen is seeking various donations. Cash to purchase ingredients and equipment. Any food items that can be used to make soup such as carrots, potatoes, onions, celery, turnip, etc. are also welcome, and dessert of any type. For farm owners, they would be delighted to come and pick up some of your second harvest.