Journey to Life Centre Brings Hope and Help to Thunder Bay

by chrismcgregor
Categories: Divisional News

The history of The Salvation Army in Thunder Bay goes back more than a century, offering a range of spiritual and social programs back when the city was Port Arthur and Fort William. Those services continue at The Salvation Army Journey to Life Centre, which officially opened its doors last fall.

Individuals and families of all ages in the city are feeling the effects of a depressed economy and fewer high paying jobs. And seniors on fixed incomes are also struggling to pay their bills, says Gail Kromm, Community Engagement Manager at The Salvation Army Journey to Life Centre.

The Community and Family Services Food Bank in Thunder Bay has almost doubled the number of monthly hampers being distributed, with 509 being handed out in March alone, Gail says.

Each hamper comes with a recipe book that shows people how to make the most of the food provided and how to cook with unfamiliar ingredients.

“As costs rise for everything, it increases food insecurity and the need for support, but The Salvation Army is always here to bring hope and compassion to anyone looking for food, clothing or even someone just looking to talk,” says Gail.

“Our Community and Family Services are seeing people from age 16 coming on their own, to the oldest right now being an 81-year-old. There is definitely a growing number of seniors coming as it is increasingly difficult for them to cover all their expenses with their pension income because of the rising cost of food.”

The Salvation Army Journey to Life Centre Executive Director Gary Ferguson says the city’s once prosperous natural resource industry has declined in recent years, and many paper mills and grain elevators have closed, taking the high paying jobs with them.

“There has been some growth in the education field and health sectors but not enough to make up for the lost jobs in other sectors that were the economic engine here in Thunder Bay ,” he explains.

As a result, approximately 10 per cent of the city’s population, or 1,500 people, are facing food insecurity issues, while another 15-20 per cent are experiencing other life struggles related to rising housing and food costs.

“They are now forced to make choices on where to spend their money, when money is incredibly tight. Do they buy food, or do they pay the rent? They need shelter so often the people we support are skipping meals or taking expensive food like fruit, vegetables and meat out of their diet,” Gail says.

“We’re also seeing an increase in the use of our Soup Van. The mobile Soup Van provides a warm cup of soup to 80 to 100 people each night on the streets of Thunder Bay, and use this winter was up by 50 per cent compared to previous years. In February, The Salvation Army breakfast program at St. James School served 1,102 meals to keep students fed.

She explains that many people living on a fixed income often don’t have access to a fridge or stove, making healthy and nutritious meals a challenge to prepare. Often people living under a cloud of food insecurity are forced to rely on fast or microwaveable food, or meals that don’t require cooking.

As a result, fewer people know how to cook economical nutritious meals. Poor diets often lead to long-term health issues that have further impact on the community.

Gary adds that new residents are moving into Thunder Bay in search of work, but as many of the jobs are in retail or tourism sectors, people are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Add to that mix, a shortage of affordable or subsidized housing, and people are caught in the cycle of struggling to pay their bills.

“Individuals and families in Thunder Bay are finding themselves in difficult situations, and that’s why the work of The Salvation Army is so important,” says Gary. “We are grateful for our community partners who help us fulfil our mission and provide hope to our community’s most vulnerable.

As the city escapes the pandemic’s grip, Gail says anyone looking to help people in need can donate fresh food and vegetables, volunteer to facilitate community programs, sort and pack food bank hampers, or make a financial donation to the Journey to Life Centre.