The Oshawa soup kitchen that served a million meals is on the move

Volunteers at St. Vincent Palloti's Kitchen pose with the meals they're about to serve patrons. The soup kitchen, operated by Durham Outlook for the Needy, serves about 200 meals every day. Photo credit: Picture courtesy of Durham Outlook

For the past 30 years, St. Vincent Palloti’s Kitchen has offered the needy in Oshawa hot meals in a dignified setting. Last week, Durham Outlook for the Needy, the organization that operates the soup kitchen, announced they’d sold the building located downtown at 51 King St. E.

Though it’s the end of an era, it doesn’t come as a surprise to the regular patrons and volunteers at the kitchen, who’ve been eagerly awaiting the realization of Durham Outlook’s plan to relocate to a new building at 227 Simcoe St. S.

Relocation has been a priority for the organization because the current soup kitchen is in the building’s basement, hindering access to disabled individuals. Over the years, it’s also become expensive to repair and maintain the kitchen’s deteriorating equipment, says Valerie Moreton, director of operations and fundraising at Durham Outlook.

The land for the new building was purchased in April 2015, but the non-profit organization’s plan for a smooth transition was derailed when they discovered soil contamination at the construction site.

This came as a shock to the organization since the company they’d hired to create an environmental report had approved the construction.

“They filled the paperwork out properly,” says Moreton. “But [they] definitely didn’t do what they said in the papers.”

As a result, Durham Outlook was forced to spend around $500,000 to clean up the site and replace the contaminated soil. Since the organization operates largely through donations and had set aside $1.3 million for the new building, this unexpected expense meant the move was put on hold.

Finally, during the annual general meeting of the organization last month the sale of the building at 51 King St. E. was approved for $825,000.

“[After] selling the building and [with] what we have in the account, we have about a million dollars,” says Moreton, “which will be enough just to kind of build the building. We do have the foundation already completed. We’re probably going to need around another $750,000 to actually outfit it – such as lights, security system and all the [kitchen] equipment.”

Moreton says construction will begin next year as soon as the frost thaws.

“Because it costs a lot of extra money to pay for [the construction crew] to heat the ground to work!”

Spending extra money is not something Durham Outlook can afford, especially right now. For the past few years, the organization has been able to fund the soup kitchen’s operation through golf, gala and bowling fundraisers that bring in more than $120,000 annually.

COVID-19 essentially put an end to those fundraisers this year and the organization is searching for new ways to raise money to ensure their diners can walk into a fully functioning soup kitchen next summer.

Over the past 30 years, Durham Outlook has served more than 1.4 million meals, and the ticket price of $1.50 has not changed. Most of the tickets are purchased by churches in the region, who then distribute them to their attendees. However, having a meal ticket isn’t a requirement.

“Anybody can come in and have a free meal. We don’t ask for ID, we just welcome everybody,” explains Moreton. “With that being said, some patrons prefer to come in and pay $1.50 because they want that dignity of feeling like they’re paying for a meal out.”

The whole layout of the soup kitchen is meant to provide a dignified dining experience. There are no buffet lines; volunteers wait on diners at their table and bring them the food option of their choice. Between 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. every day, the kitchen resembles a bustling restaurant, with new patrons being welcomed and regular ones greeting each other warmly.

“Some of the guys will be like, ‘oh, I’m going to pay for her meal,’” says Moreton with a laugh, “kind of like a date night out!”

In March, the kitchen had to close due to the pandemic, and Durham Outlook has instead been focusing on redistributing donated food to other charity organizations in the region such as Back Door Mission and Gate 3:16 Outreach Centre.

“We would typically help out 35 to 40 organizations in a month. And now [after COVID] we’re helping maybe 55 to 60,” says Moreton.

For now, regulars of St. Vincent’s kitchen are depending on meal services and food banks organized by charities such as Back Door Mission, but Durham Outlook hopes to welcome them to its new building in the summer of 2021.

Located at 227 Simcoe St. S., the new single-storey building will be fully accessible and capable of hosting 25 per cent more people every day.

Durham Outlook is currently trying to raise funds through one-time donations from individuals. They’re also offering naming rights to the overall facility, kitchen, store, dining room and boardroom of the new Durham Outlook building.

The non-profit organization hopes this fundraising effort will ensure they can continue feeding the needy in Oshawa with dignity for the foreseeable future.

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