Jim Reimer is the Pastor of the Kootenay Christian Fellowship in Nelson, British Columbia, and he opened Our Daily Bread in 2002. I was a volunteer at Our Daily Bread in 2018 and 2019. I went back in 2021 to speak to Jim and a few of the volunteers to find out more about their motivation for helping people in our community.
Jim opened Our Daily Bread, a subsidized hot meal program, 19 years ago because he saw an under-served population who needed more social support than Nelson offered. He works closely with disadvantaged populations including the working poor, people with mental health problems, homeless people, people with disabilities, substance use problems, as well as low-income seniors.
When I volunteered, I witnessed Jim’s kindness and his interest in the people who visit Our Daily Bread. At lunchtime, Jim joined in the lineup of hungry people forming an arc through the spacious dining room. He made a point of speaking with new people and regular visitors. I was struck by how much work and organization it took to serve breakfast and lunch to 60 or 70 people.
On returning, I visited the kitchen to speak with the people preparing lunch. I met the cook, Melinda Peters, and asked her how she planned the meals. She said,
“I care if the food tastes good and if it looks good. I care about what people think about our food, and if they’re getting nourished when they eat here.”
The day we spoke, Melinda served Chinese food: honey garlic pork balls, stir fry vegetables with cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, onions, celery, peppers, pea pods, and rice. Melinda and the volunteers prepared a macaroni salad, a Greek salad, and a garden salad. Every lunch includes a hot meal, three choices of salad, dessert, coffee, and tea. Melinda was proud of contributing healthy meals to the community. But she worried when a regular lunch guest stopped coming, especially if they have health problems, or if the person is a senior.
Kathy Hartel volunteers at Our Daily Bread five days a week. When I went, she was standing at the restaurant-sized dish pit, washing the dishes, and loading them into the sanitizing machine. Kathy worked at the Breakfast Hut, right beside Our Daily Bread, before it closed.
Two of my favorite people at Our Daily Bread when I volunteered were women with disabilities. Gloria helped in the kitchen. She worked cutting vegetables for the salads. She loved the Beatles and carried a Beatles lunch case. It was a pleasure when she showed me her lunch case. She reminded me I had holes in my jeans.
Marlene was cheerful and friendly. She liked to come into the kitchen to talk to me when I volunteered. She was a bright light.
Our Daily Bread serves people lunch five days a week. Everyone is welcomed and a book of 22 meal tickets is twenty dollars. If a person can’t buy a ticket, they can clean up after lunch. No one in need of a meal, or help, is turned away.
Jim spoke about the importance of treating every person at Our Daily Bread with dignity and respect. I remembered standing in the parking lot, beside the coffee can ashtray, while Jim and another volunteer knelt on the pavement and spoke quietly to a man sitting on the ground. I recognized their compassion. It reminded me of the day I sat on the stairs in the Nelson Parkade. A man working as the parking lot attendant asked me to move. His mouth was full of gauze. I asked him how he got his job. He said Jim got him the part-time job, and he was just at the dentist. Jim arranged his dentist appointment earlier in the day.
Filling a need
The community was not supportive of Our Daily Bread when Jim initially introduced the idea.
“People in the community felt angst about Our Daily Bread opening in Nelson. The feedback I received was that it would bring crime, and people would bring their bad behavior to our location, but they were wrong. The community changed their views about Our Daily Bread because the stigmatization of this population has broken down. The Christian community, once our greatest detractors, are the most supportive people in Nelson,” Jim said.
Our Daily Bread relies on the community to operate successfully. Grocery stores in Nelson donate food, conservation officers donate meat, local farms donate produce, and people with backyard gardens bring in vegetables. Our Daily Bread buys the remainder of the food. Buying local food allows Our Daily Bread to support the same businesses that donated food to them.
Community supporting people
After I spoke with Melinda, I went into the dining room where Henry was sitting at the far end of a table. Before Covid, the tables were full of people talking and laughing. The restrictions have dampened socializing.
Henry is a tall man; he’s six-four. His thick grey hair is combed back and he’s handsome and neat. He’s a senior, and he owned a knife store in Nelson. Now he makes leather goods to sell at the Farmers’ Market. He told me he likes to eat at Our Daily Bread because of the variety of food and the nutritious meals. Henry is the kind of person other people feel comfortable around.
Pam Hall was a volunteer I saw frequently. She was born in Creston, BC, and she’s bubbly and cute, a strawberry blonde with curly hair. Someone was always waiting to talk to Pam. Either from across the room or in the parking lot, people wanted to be in her company. She was a singer in a successful band in Vancouver before she moved back to the Kootenays. I was curious how she began volunteering at Our Daily Bread.
When Pam returned to Nelson, she went back to school and became a Community Support Worker. One of Pam’s clients is K., is a middle-aged man with autism. Pam found activities for K. and herself during the week, but on Sundays they were running out things to do. They both loved music, so they visited churches until Pam and K. found the Kootenay Christian Fellowship. Pam came to the Kootenay Christian Fellowship for the music, and she was moved by Jim’s sincerity. She became a member of the church and a volunteer at Our Daily Bread.
“This was a Christian organization walking the walk,” she said.
For the past ten years, Pam and K. have volunteered at Our Daily Bread. Pam worked at the door or picked up supplies for the kitchen, K. helped to cut vegetables. Although K is quiet, when he and Pam are finished and she’s driving him home he names everybody he knows at Our Daily Bread.
Pam has empathy for people. When she was waiting to adopt her son, he suffered two skull fractures in the home of his foster mother. He’s grown now, but in the past, he had problems with his short-term memory. Pam knows that the reason people have disadvantages are not always visible.
Before I left Our Daily Bread, I talked to Steve, a social work student at Selkirk College. Steve felt seniors and women found Our Daily Bread helpful because of the peaceful environment.
Jim and Pam, K, Melinda, Kathy and Steve, Henry, Marlene, and Gloria are the reason Our Daily Bread is a special place. The people who give donations of food, money, or time to Our Daily Bread are working together so Nelson is a kinder place.
About Meredith Macdonald
Meredith is one of two creative writing students at Selkirk College who has joined us the past few months to learn a bit more about journalism and try her hand at writing a story for Living Here. We’re proud to publish her first piece for us this week.
Meredith moved to Nelson in 2018 from Vancouver. She is a Selkirk College student and her favourite classes at Selkirk have been Creative Writing. She wrote this story for Living Here as part of a professional practices assignment. Meredith is excited about the enthusiastic people who work at the magazine, and she is learning new things about writing at Living Here. She would like to continue as a volunteer writer and is thinking about new story ideas. Meredith is grateful for the many helpful, patient people in the Kootenays.