When Wayne Long and his staff first floated the idea of operating a free lunch program at his Market Square office, "we thought we might get a person or two a day," the Saint John-Rothesay MP said.
Since late January, many more than that, including, senior citizens, people who are homelessness, teens and families have used the program.
"We're seeing upwards of 20 people a day now coming in," Long said.
Local restaurateurs — including Rocky's owner Moe Arsenault, Toro Taco, Barred Rock and Saint John Alehouse owner Peter Stoddard, Alehouse chef Jesse Vergen, and Chris Grannan of Grannan's Seafood and Church Street Steakhouse — have even stepped up to supply food for the lunch program.
The demand, Long said, illustrates the need for both small-scale anti-poverty programs and a broader national strategy.
Small deeds become big projects
Romero House and Outflow Ministries also serve hundreds of lunches and community suppers five nights a week, but those local initiatives still "don't address the total need we have in our city," Long said.
"It's quite sad to see the amount of people who are hungry in our city and I'm absolutely determined to stop that."
The key to solving Saint John's poverty problem, he said, is situating small community projects within a larger-scale plan.
Recently, a federal project, Tackling Poverty Together, kicked off a series of country-wide community visits in Saint John, surveying 1,000 poor people, community stakeholders and representatives from non-governmental organizations.
The input will help shape the development of the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy.
"The fact that Saint John is playing a key role in shaping and forming that strategy is an opportunity that we should seize as Saint Johners," Long said. "People want to help and do the right thing, but they aren't always sure how."
"Small deeds become big projects," he said, "I know that we're on the cusp of something big in Saint John-Rothesay, where we can make a major dent."