Every Sunday morning Cathy and Bob Swain get up early and start cooking.
They usually make a big pot of soup, bread, coffee, and sometimes a dessert, but they aren’t cooking for themselves.
They bring the food down to the old True Value location in Port Hardy on Market Street, where those who are homeless, hungry, or just lonely are waiting for them.
“We have all kinds of people coming,” said Cathy, who is a member of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw First Nation. “It’s not just our community members, it’s people from other First Nations, people from down Island, or the mainland – if they happen to be around they will come.”
She said they usually see between 30 to 40 people, sometimes more. “We had burgers and hot dogs in the summer and it was close to 50 people that came,” said Cathy.
The Swains have been making food for those who are hungry since last January.
They used to serve lunch on Saturdays because the Salvation Army and Sacred Wolf Friendship Centre only served food Monday to Friday, but after Providence place began to provide breakfasts on Saturdays, they moved to Sunday so people could have something to eat every day of the week.
The Swains have an anonymous donor that provides them with $25 dollars once a week, but the rest of the cost of serving meals comes directly out of their own grocery bill.
“We are blessed to interact with the people,” said Cathy, adding, “There is just mutual honour and respect because they know we are doing this on our own and in memory of our son.”
Their youngest son Robb passed away in an accident in 1999, when he was only 11 years old. “He always wanted to give to panhandlers,” said Cathy, stating that once on a trip to the movies she explained to him and his brothers that they didn’t have enough money to give to panhandlers.
“What did he do? He begged to give his share of money for treats to someone less fortunate,” said Cathy.
She said there are some mornings where she doesn’t want to get up and start cooking, but she pushes herself to do it.
“On Thanksgiving weekend we had everything – turkey and all the fixings. I heard someone say ‘we do get turkey for Thanksgiving’ – it’s things like that that inspire and motivate us to go on,” she said.
Cathy noted she understands how they feel because she was homeless herself for a brief period of time in the past.
“When my husband lost his brother, before we said our prayers for the meal, everybody just drew close – The people there have a large heart,” she said, adding, “They really, really care because they can empathize because they have had so much trial and tribulations in their lives.”
The Swains have also had help from their family, with their daughter stepping up to serve the lunch one weekend when they had to be out of town.
They also are quick to point out they are not doing this for any kind of recognition.
“We are just trying to make the world a better place,” said Bob. “It doesn’t take much to do it to make so many people happy and they are thankful, they do show their respect to us – it’s well appreciated by the people.”
Cathy said she knows of other people that are helping those in need, and that there is even a group on Facebook called “Giveaway of cooked foods” where people post if they have leftovers for someone in need.
“My sister Lowena has a friend who cooks a meal for whoever is in need that he serves at his place,” said Cathy. “I know of so many different folks who also give bags of food to others.”
They are hoping to make another turkey dinner around Christmas time and can be found every Sunday at noon, not only serving a hot meal, but enjoying some good company, at the old True Value parking lot.
“It’s a real blessing and we do encourage anyone to come by,” said Cathy. “It’s an honour to be able to do this.”