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Meals served with love and dignity at Rainbow Kitchen

Non-profit Rainbow Kitchen in Esquimalt is among the many community organizations receiving assistance from the Times Colonist Christmas Fund.
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Patrick Johnstone serves breakfast to Ivan Livingston at the Rainbow Kitchen this week. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

When the doors open at 8 a.m. at the Rainbow Kitchen in ­Esquimalt, the first people show up for coffee or tea.

A hot ­breakfast is served half an hour later when there are 30 to 50 people waiting.

Between noon and 1 p.m. more people arrive and another 230 to 250 hot meals are served, typically double portions for people to take home or share with someone else.

No questions are asked of those who come for free meals.

The Rainbow Kitchen’s ethos is to treat people with dignity.

“They are not our ­clients. They are our guests. It is a ­welcoming place,” said ­executive director Patrick ­Johnstone.

“We say our mission is to feed bellies and fill souls.”

The non-profit Rainbow Kitchen at 500 Admirals Rd. (the entrance is around the corner on Lyall Street) is among the many community organizations receiving assistance from the Times Colonist Christmas Fund.

Support from the Christmas Fund is “lifesaving” for the group, which has been watching the need increase in the past few years, Johnstone said.

Operating costs have climbed to $600,000 annually, from $300,000, in two years, he said. The organization has no secure funding.

Some past funders are not able to help any more while others have had to shave their donation budget. Inflation, with its higher food prices, is hitting everyone.

The number of hot meals served each month is rising as the need increases. In December 2021, 14,000 meals were served. Last month, 17,000 meals were dished out. Johnstone predicts next month could see between 18,000 to 20,000 meals provided to people in need.

Meals are designed to be tasty, healthy and nutritious. Each day, a new dish is offered, such as shepherd’s pie, pasta and sauce, a hearty stew, Thai curry or butter chicken. All are served in takeaway containers, although there is a dining room available. Vegetarian options are also offered.

The organization has six ­full-time and four part-time employees and works with about 200 volunteers every month.

It is a place “that is safe enough to welcome an entire family and children,” Johnstone said. That is not necessarily the case with some other soup kitchens. “We pride ourselves on that.”

A mother with a nursing baby showed up and received a food hamper the other day, he said.

Newcomers to Canada are among guests. Rainbow Kitchen workers use apps for language translation to find out what people are specifically looking to use to make traditional dishes.

A table full of free food, often produce, is set up for people to take what they need.

The Rainbow Kitchen also feeds youngsters in local schools. It delivers items to Ecole Macauley Elementary and Rockheights Middle School, and hopes to add a third school in the new year, Johnstone said.

Refrigerators are set up and stocked in each school for everyone from students to faculty to bus drivers to take for free. The group supplies baked goods, such as muffins and zucchini bread, each with a Rainbow Kitchen logo sticker and an uplifting message such as “Hope you have a great day.” Yogurt with granola and veggies and dips are among foods commonly stocked.

Further, the Rainbow Kitchen prepares meals for other organizations such as isolated seniors through the James Bay New Horizons Society, and to Peers Victoria Resources Society. It “rescues” food from grocers, wholesalers, farmers and others, and sends bulk food items to local free markets.

Johnstone recalled a man who used to rely on the Rainbow Kitchen. One day, the man returned and said: “You saved my life. I don’t need this anymore because I have changed things around and I’ve got a girlfriend and a place and a job.”

HOW TO DONATE TO THE TIMES COLONIST CHRISTMAS FUND

The Times Colonist Christmas Fund has raised about $130,000 so far this holiday season thanks to donations large and small from readers.

You can donate by going to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund fundraising page via timescolonist.com/donate. This will take you to our CanadaHelps page; the site is open 24 hours a day and provides an immediate tax receipt.

Or mail a cheque to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, 201-655 Tyee Road, Victoria, B.C. V9A 6X5.

You can also use your credit card by phoning 250-995-4438 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: letters@timescolonist.com

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