Feeding the Soul Community Lunch offers free meals

ELORA – It’s hard to get a free lunch these days, but in Elora it’s a tradition that’s been going strong since 2015.

Strong and growing, says Deb Reynolds, chief organizer of the Feeding the Soul Community Lunch, which offers a free lunch twice a month to anyone who shows up.

The concept started after reading the Vital Signs report written by the Centre Wellington Community Foundation nearly a decade ago.

“I was really struck by the information,” said Reynolds in an interview. 

“It showed a real gap between the rich and poor, and in geography. Only 17% of food bank users were from Elora while 43% were from Fergus.”

That led to the beginning of Bungalow 55, a volunteer enterprise that operated from 55 Geddes St. in Elora.

That’s when the free lunch program began, thanks to volunteer cooks and local businesses that donate food.

The bungalow was sold, and the lunch has been served at various locations in Elora over the years.

In 2023 it moved to the Elora Legion, which has a commercial kitchen and more space.

Reynolds said about 100 people are now showing up.

It’s not just about food insecurity, although that was the impetus for the program, Reynolds said.

“It’s about coming together for the community to share a meal,” she said. “It reduces isolation, increases connection, increases mental health, and increases community resiliency. 

“That’s important for the places we live. The luncheon provides that outlet.”

Food can also be taken home and can be delivered to locations in Fergus and Elora, Reynolds added.

Lots of people come – seniors, mothers with young children, people who live alone, people from the community. It’s not obvious if people are there because they can’t afford food.

“We want to reduce stigma – not add to it,” she said.

Feeding the Soul has also partnered with the Geddes Street Market to install a fridge and community pantry behind the store.

 There’s also a donation bin inside the store for those who want to donate food items to the pantry. Anyone can access the pantry; one bag of food per family.

“We need as many pathways as possible to food,” Reynolds said. “It’s been wonderful – and very busy. It makes me wonder where we’re heading. I am concerned about the next five years.”

The lunches are held on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month until the summer. Then there’s a lunch on July 9 and an end-of-season picnic at the Elora Centre for the Arts on Aug. 27.

Information about the lunch – what’s on offer, what’s needed in terms of donations – can be found on the Bungalow 55 Community Luncheon Facebook page.

The organization has received grants from the township and from the community foundation in the past. It has to pay the Legion for the space and the rental of the kitchen and also pays a stipend to the cooks.

So they need some funding and accept pay-as-you-can donations as well.

“Now more than ever, we’re needed in the community,” Reynolds said. “I hear through the grapevine that people are living in their cars. It’s hard to feed a family these days.

“But if we work together and make this a priority, we can do something about food insecurity. And at least we can provide a hot meal in a friendly environment.

“Come out; you don’t need a reason.”