Deep in the forest near the Hefler lumber mill in Middle Sackville, N.S., was the place Snake called home, surviving 11 months living rough in 2019.
A victim of poverty and the Halifax region's affordable housing crisis, he turned to the woods instead of a men's shelter or living on the street. CBC has agreed to identify Snake, 56, by the nickname he uses with his friends.
"I didn't honestly think I was ever going to get out of there and get back on my feet," he said in an interview on Friday. He thought back to how hygiene was his biggest problem. He would wash in the river or at the library.
But feeding himself was less of a worry thanks to the hot chili, turkey dinners and other warm meals served to him and hundreds of others every Monday at Freedom Kitchen.
The soup kitchen started as a pilot project in October 2019, operating out of a borrowed food truck parked outside of Knox United Church in Lower Sackville.
But on Monday, Freedom Kitchen is celebrating a major milestone: the opening of its newly constructed $42,000 building. It was paid for by grants from the federal government, the United Way and the United Church of Canada, said Rainie Murphy, the director of the soup kitchen. Businesses and community members also chipped in.
Freedom Kitchen, no longer a temporary program, now has a permanent space.
It's also marking 20,000 meals served to people in need in this suburb.
Volunteers did more than feed Snake hearty meals. They befriended him, cared for him, and worried about him living in the woods.
They also connected him with a street navigator in Halifax to lead him out of the woods before another winter set in.
"I got a room in Halifax and then I got my job back and yeah, worked out good. But I owe it to the people that helped me here, right," he said.
Snake, one of Freedom Kitchen's first regulars, is no longer hungry or homeless.
"They are honestly people that you'd want to spend time with," he said.
For the last few months, Snake has been showing his gratitude by helping Freedom Kitchen with construction work. He said he pitched in with framing, roofing, drywalling, painting and cupboard installation.
"Look, this is a beautiful place, it turned out really, really good," said Snake. "I'm proud to do what I did because this is going to benefit a lot of people."
Snake will be among the people celebrating Freedom Kitchen's success at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
He adopted his nickname because of the snakes he used to associate with, but it "doesn't mean you have to be one," he said.
That's what his friends at Freedom Kitchen have shown him.
"That's something that's been totally different in my life, that's why I'm here," he said.
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