From vegetable beef to vegetarian chili to mixed meat soup that incorporates the donation of the week, Paul’s Place serves a hot meal to the community of Port Coquitlam every Wednesday. Some come for warmth and physical nourishment or to extend a tight food budget. Others come from loneliness for the emotional nourishment of sharing a meal and conversation with others. Their reasons for coming aren’t important to the volunteers who keep Paul’s Place running; everyone is welcome.
Named in memory of Paul Warwick, whose vision led to St. Catherine’s establishing a monthly soup kitchen, Paul’s Place has been operating since January 2002. Initially, volunteers had to lure homeless people from the bushes along the Coquitlam River to come to the church for a bowl of hot soup. From the handful of clients who shared the first monthly meals in 2002, participation has grown to an average of 125 people at the now-weekly soup kitchens. The number of volunteers has grown as well, with members of the Tzu Chi Foundation, an international Buddhist charitable organization, serving lunch twice a month. St. Catherine’s volunteers have expanded their effort as well, preparing and serving lunch on the second, third and fifth Wednesday each month.
Other groups participate on special occasions. For the last two years, students from Heritage Woods Secondary School have prepared and served a full turkey dinner on one Wednesday in December.
Although the food is free, a donation box is available for anyone who wants to contribute. However, the donation box and sales of leftover soup defray only a fraction of the weekly costs. Donations from the wider community help to keep the soup kitchen running. SHARE routinely provides buns, pies and pastries, and EFCON Inc. frequently contributes ice cream. In 2010, monetary donations came from businesses and community groups including Castle Park Elementary School, Sons of Norway, Trinity Men’s Group, Bank of Montreal – BMO Employees Foundation, EMT Management, Como Lake Garden Center and Heatherbrae and from several individuals.
Photograph: St. Catherine's volunteers in the kitchen