Helping Hands always in need of water bottles

·3 min read

A water bottle drive put on by the Helping Hands Soup Kitchen in downtown Brandon saw more than 320 individual bottles of water donated on Saturday.

Murray Kempthorne works as a chef at the soup kitchen. He said donations have been pretty good this summer, but water is something they always need.

"We don’t have an ice machine to keep water cold, so we have to give water bottles … we go through probably 150 bottles a day, so it doesn’t take long before you’re looking for more."

When the water runs out, the kitchen provides its clientele with juice or milk. In the summer heat, it’s not ideal, and Amanda Bray said they can run out of both beverages, too.

"The milk and juice is really one of those resources that isn’t endless. We only get a little bit," Bray, the program co-ordinator at the soup kitchen, told the Sun on Saturday. "Some days we don’t even have juice, so then it’s just a small amount of milk, because again, we rely on donations for that."

The soup kitchen’s last bottle drive was in November.

Bray said Saturday’s water bottle drive was "hit and miss," but noted that donations were coming in before and are expected to come in following the event as well.

"We had some folks even last week, because they heard about our drive, popping in and dropping off bottles. We’ve got a few folks who heard about the drive and told me they’re coming in next week."

Overall, at a count of 324 water bottles just after 1 p.m., Bray was happy with the generosity the soup kitchen experienced during the drive.

"It’s fantastic."

The Helping Hands Soup Kitchen serves anywhere from 90 to 200 people a day. All of its funding is locally sourced, from donations by the City of Brandon and local organizations like United Way.

Bray said that after the pandemic, and with the high cost of living, they’re serving more people than ever before.

"People are saying they’re here because they just simply can’t afford groceries right now … we’re seeing a lot of folks that are coming that wouldn’t normally be here. It’s both heartwarming that we’re able to be there for them, but also heartbreaking at the same time, with how many people are using our services every day."

Bray said the big issue at play is food accessibility, but it’s a problem that has no easy solution.

"It would be great to have more resources that people can go to," she said, adding that she’d like to see employment and income assistance and pensions go up to reflect the high cost of living.

Bray is noticing more and more new faces coming to the soup kitchen, and her message for all of them is one of welcome. With round tables placed throughout the cheerily decorated, large space, it’s no accident that it feels more like a restaurant than a soup kitchen. In fact, Bray said that’s exactly what she’s going for to put people at ease.

"It’s hard sometimes to take that first step through the door … [but] if you needed a band-aid, you wouldn’t be embarrassed to get that band-aid. We feel like we can be that band-aid for folks who need it."

When people do show up, Bray said they get more than just a much-needed meal; they get a place to find community.

"People come and they gather here. They meet their friends here, and we also try to be social and take that moment out of our day to chit-chat … and find out how people are doing."

The soup kitchen is open from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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