SURREY – A volunteer-run mobile soup kitchen feeding the homeless in Whalley’s most troubled neighbourhood is facing a shutdown without proper permitting.
Dozens of community volunteers from have been serving food to the poor and homeless on 135A Street without incident every Sunday since February. But on Thanksgiving Day, the group began running into problems that may end the meals altogether.
First it was Surrey bylaw enforcement officers who told them they’d have to move off the Whalley Legion parking lot. The city later gave them permission to use a nearby empty lot.
But the reprieve was brief. Two weeks ago, Fraser Health called to tell them they need proper permits to serve food and that it needs to be prepared in a certified kitchen.
Now Whalley Community Association wants to speak to them about “concerns,” said Surrey resident and Erin Schulte, who began the mobile kitchen with a group of friends.
“I’m not a business person. I’m just… I want to do what’s right,” said Schulte, her voice choking. “How could you get angry at people who are feeding and clothing others?” Schulte said she began serving food to people in February after seeing hungry and shivering people on the streets of Whalley. She said it’s even more tragic that the City of Surrey failed to find a 24-hour winter shelter this year, which means if the kitchen is forced to shut down, then the homeless will go without food and warmth.
Since February, word on the street has spread that a group of people serve a hot meal in the same place every Sunday. Schulte said people line up down the block, and they aren’t just the drug addicts who frequent the area. There are seniors, people in wheelchairs and those who look hungry and “unwell.”
“I truly believe, from the bottom of my heart, is that what got us in trouble is when we come out, the volume of homeless that come out of the cracks and crevices… you can now see the size of the problem. You can’t say we don’t have a homeless problem when there’s 150 people lining the street.”
Schulte is hoping a miracle will save the group by donating a kitchen that can be certified by Fraser Health. But she said the media attention the group has received seems to have created more problems than solutions.
She said she recently wrote a letter to Mayor Dianne Watts pleading for help and asking for a temporary permit and some time to find a kitchen.
“I know she’s never going to get it and I know I’m never going to hear anything back but I’m just like, please… these people are cold right now and I just need some time.”