Kamloops COVID-19 Meal Train still running, one year into the pandemic

COVID meal train chugging

Kamloops’ COVID-19 Meal Train program has no plans to pull into the station after marking its one-year anniversary.

The grassroots endeavour turned a year old on March 28, serving an estimated 75,000 meals to some 500 unique individuals in that time.

The program was launched by the non-profit Lived Experience Community amidst the uncertainty surrounding food security for Kamloops’ homeless population in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Co-ordinator Glenn Hilke said the program has served up an average of 200 meals a day between breakfast and lunch service, taking food into the community — essentially like a Meals on Wheels program — every day of the week. Hilke estimates the program serves meals to about 100 different people per day as some will request more than one portion.

“It changes from day to day. You’re trying to catch people where they live,” Hilke said.

Meals are prepared out of The Loop at 405A Tranquille Rd. in North Kamloops and delivered to places where people in need can be found — such as along the banks of the Thompson Rivers and at local motels.

The meal train came about as other agencies’ meal programs temporarily began shutting down due to the pandemic, either because their spaces did not allow for operations to continue or because volunteers were those particularly vulnerable to the disease.

“We stepped in to fill in that gap,” Hilke said.

Hilke said the program has shown him that the people of Kamloops are very compassionate, caring and committed when they know people are vulnerable and in need of help.

“For the 43 years that I’ve been working in the not-for-profit sector, I have never experienced an outpouring of generosity and kindness like I have with this program,” Hilke said.

The program started with just six people last year, but has since ballooned to about 25 regular volunteers. Delivery drivers traverse an average of about 100 kilometres a day, he said.

About 250 different people have helped out at one point or another — be it via donating money or food, making and/or delivering meals or shopping for the program.

One family began doing weekly Costco runs at the start of the pandemic, while another woman is putting together an average of 600 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches per week, Hilke noted.

The program has been well received by people on the streets.

Hilke recalled driving empty roads in Kamloops in the early days of the program, looking for people in need. He said he would often just pull up to someone who looked as though they were homeless and ask if they needed a bite to eat.

“I never once had a person get angry with me,” Hilke said. “The people who didn’t need help would just say, ‘No, thank you very much and we appreciate what you do.’”

Volunteers have come to develop relationships with the people who have been recipients of the meal program built on the confidence and trust that they will be back each day, Hilke said.

“I myself have come to know many more people that are struggling with poverty, homelessness, mental health and substance use than ever before. It’s not an easy program to do,” he said. “You’re seeing a lot of people hurting.”

Hilke noted when the program began, it had no money, and to this day, most of the funds and food come from various businesses, organizations and people in the community.

He said the program quickly morphed into an outreach program, as well as a food security program, given the relationships they’ve built.

As for the program’s future beyond the pandemic, Hilke said it will continue as long as there are volunteers to keep it running as its need existed long before the pandemic arrived.

“COVID or no COVID, Kamloops still has a food insecurity challenge,” Hilke said.

Donations for the program can be arranged by contacting Hilke at 250-879-0465 or by visiting the Kamloops Covid Meal Train page on Facebook.

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