A long line of people wraps along the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Regina, with people ranging from seniors to women with young toddlers queued outside the church's glass door.
The church's pantry program, which offers free lunches every weekday to help address food insecurity in the Heritage neighborhood, is about to begin at 1 p.m. CST.
Volunteer Kathy Cameron said it is a privilege to be able to help people who can't afford a meal.
"It's about community and these folks are part of my community. I might not live in the area they live, but they're part of my family in Regina," said Cameron.
The pantry program started after administrators saw a need during the pandemic in March 2020. The administrator and the pastor reached out to the congregation for money and food donations, which started rolling in.
The latest numbers from Statistics Canada show that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still being felt, with 20 per cent of Saskatchewan households dealing with food insecurity.
"People would come and say, 'do you have food?' and we would empty the cupboard," said Emmett Brown, office administrator and pantry co-ordinator at Trinity Lutheran Church.
Brown sees food insecurity challenges reflected in the increasing number of people coming for help. The church can offer about 100 lunches a day, with sandwiches donated by the Indigenous Christian Fellowship, but the demand can exceed that amount.
No one leaves without any food though, as volunteers will still provide extra snacks they have on hand.
Volunteers, both church members and others, package and hand out lunches that include instant noodles, a granola bar and a fruit snack, along with the donated sandwiches.
"We work on the honour system here. We go 'how many people are you feeding today?' So if you need six lunches, we give you six lunches," said Brown.
Volunteers hope to bring joy, not just food
Margaret Roth said she jumps out of bed excitedly every Thursday morning, knowing that she will be volunteering with the pantry.
"I'm going to be 87 pretty soon. So I think I could become very isolated. You need something to live for and this is a definite place to live for," said Roth.
"We didn't know these people before and we've got to know them, and to know them is to love them."
Roth said she asks everyone their name and greets them to find out how they've been since the last time they visited. She said she hopes the interactions are as meaningful to them as they are to her.
"It's really a privilege to serve," said Roth.
Cameron said that when people thank her, she reminds them there is a whole community of people that want them to know they care.
Water bottle fundraiser
Along with the lunches, the church raises money to give out 10,000 plastic water bottles each summer.
Brown said this year the church hopes to make that initiative greener by giving out reusable bottles.
"Ten thousand bottles of water is a lot going into recycling, or landfill, or just the street. Who knows where these ended up?" said Brown.
The hope is that people can take the new reusable bottles and fill them with water at the drinking fountain outside Carmichael Outreach.
Advocating to end poverty
While they all enjoy volunteering, Cameron said food insecurity should not exist in Regina.
She advocates along with the group End Poverty Regina for all levels of government to address homelessness.
The group has written letters, started petitions, and went to city hall in both June and December to get a housing strategy in the city's annual budget.
Cameron said it can be heartbreaking doing advocacy work, but that lines of people at Trinity Lutheran every day keep her going.
As people leave the line near the church, they share or trade with each other. She told a story about one woman.
"She had four children. She'd come every week. I've seen her give up her mitts because we ran out and someone behind her had nothing," Cameron said. "They inspire me."