My husband, Ron, was raised by an alcoholic parent. One of my parents was mentally ill.
As an adult, Ron trained younger workers. I became a psychiatric nurse.
We were baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1991.
We are both Native Canadians.
This is the story of how God helped us open the All Nations Centre, a Seventh-day Adventist community services building that operates the Bread of Life Soup Kitchen and more in the Canadian province of British Columbia, exactly 20 years ago.
My husband and I wanted to share God’s love with others after our baptism in Terrace, a town of 11,500 people and home to the Kitselas people, a tribe of the Tsimshian Nation, for thousands of years.
But neither of us had any idea what to do until a friend was suddenly widowed in 1996 and decided to open a street ministry to cope with the emptiness. She had participated in street ministry before but sought help getting started. So Ron volunteered.
The street ministry began once a week in the park with a soup pot, a loaf of bread, and a package of cookies. Funding was out of pocket.
The project grew so much over the next four years that Ron and I began to fundraise for two months out of every year, going door to door to raise the 4,500 Canadian dollars (U.S.$3,425) needed for a 12-month supply of food. Soon we needed more money, and a friend advised me to solicit the local service clubs.
“They raise money half of the year and then wait for the rest of the year for people like you to come and ask them for it,” he said.
We hadn’t thought of that, but we took his advice. With other unexpected donations, we garnered an incredible $17,000 for the soup kitchen in fall 2003. Ron retired the following May. Local Adventist church members then formed a dedicated team to run the soup kitchen. The Lord had set everything up for us.
The project grew to about 100 patrons each Sunday. The food was stored in seven fridges and freezers in our house and had to be loaded into our truck to be set up and served at the local Carpenters’ Hall, which we rented on Sundays.
Then in 2007 Ron and I were invited to a meeting with the leaders of the Adventist Church’s British Columbia Conference. One by one, the attendees introduced themselves and briefly explained their ministry. After we spoke, Gordon Pifher, conference president at the time, said: “You’ve been doing this for 13 years and we didn’t know about it? What is your greatest need? How can we help you?”
We asked for the impossible: A building of our own.
He replied the incredible: “Go look for one!”
Only three suitable buildings existed in Terrace. One was much too big and expensive. The second was unavailable. The third and most suitable was our Carpenters’ Hall. In all our years of renting it, the hall had never been available for sale. But it was our last hope. So I approached the manager to try to rent, lease, or buy the building or part of it. Remarkably, he said that the building was available for sale and that it had already been appraised. The owner, however, hadn’t put it on the market yet. The manager let us know that the owner would accept an offer far below the appraised price because of our work.
That summer, the main offerings collected at the Adventist Church’s local summer camp, Camp Hope, were divided between evangelism and the purchase of Carpenters’ Hall. The hall, renamed the All Nations Centre, became ours on Dec. 1, 2008.
Once the hall was ours and we were using it only on Sundays, we needed to find a way to occupy it regularly and generate enough income to cover taxes, utilities, and upkeep. We longed to turn it into a homeless shelter during winter. The brother of a friend had perished in the freezing cold just several months earlier.
The idea seemed a pipe dream because we had no way to fund or staff such a project.
Then the local newspaper published an article about our acquisition of the hall and our desire to use it as a warm shelter for homeless people. Within a few days, Casey Eys, the government’s local homeless outreach worker, called us.
“I read your story,” Casey said. “We have wanted to do the same thing for years but couldn’t find a suitable place. We have the people and resources to run it, but no building. You have the building but no people or resources. Can we work something out?”
Even though we had no funding in place, the homeless outreach program opened Dec. 19, 2008. It was a cold winter, and if we had waited for money, somebody else might have died of hypothermia.
We let Casey and the Lord find a way to pay the power and utilities. Casey pounded the sidewalks and eventually found the funding. His daytime drop-in program in the hall, the Living Room project, quickly proved a success, with up to 100 people dropping in daily. It is much more than a place to keep warm. Soup is served, TV is available, and many patrons feel part of an extended family.
After a while, Ron realized that the hall’s electrical system was dangerous and had to be redone. It cost all of the $3,000 we had in the bank. We were nervous because the rent from Casey barely covered utilities.
The following week a patron from another denomination told us that she was about to receive $30,000 from the Canadian government as part of a settlement with 86,000 Native Canadians removed from their families as children and placed in the Canadian Indian residential school system in the 1900s. She wanted to donate 10 percent of the amount to the All Nations Center because she believed in what it was doing for the community. We got out $3,000 back!
Around the same time, we decided to start fundraising to build a previously planned storage room onto the hall. We wanted to move the seven fridges and freezers required to store the produce and bread during the week from our home, but the hall lacked sufficient space.
ADRA donated $10,000, and a local lottery winner contributed $11,000 unsolicited. But this was still not enough. We didn’t know where to go next, so we waited. The delay turned out to be God’s way for us to accumulate funds almost effortlessly. K’san Society, which runs a local men’s shelter, decided it also wanted to operate a homeless shelter in the winter. It rented from us every night, while Casey’s program continued to operate by day.
By January 2015 we had enough money to build the storage room. Finding a construction contractor was Ron’s job. He barely started looking when a brand-new patron at the soup kitchen heard about the project and volunteered to do the job free of charge. He believed in what we were doing and was willing to do what he could. He proved to be capable, trustworthy, and imaginative. We hired another patron to help him. The project started in June and ended in October 2015.
We moved those fridges and freezers to the hall. That smoothed the way for others to eventually take over the weekly operations of the soup kitchen. Ron and I were nearing 70 years of age, and we were less able to do all the work.
The Terrace community has generously supported the soup kitchen and the All Nations Centre. Members of other denominations have donated work and money and brought youth groups to serve food. Many young offenders have spent hours serving their community with us and have returned to help after their hours have been completed.
Food collection, meanwhile, has expanded to 75 to 100 boxes weekly, serving about 100 people every Sunday. Around 45 volunteers make it happen, with 10 soup makers, a delivery crew, a Sunday setup crew, and the food serving and distribution crew.
Erbert Operana, an Adventist church member, has worked with us from Day One in September 1996. He continues to cook and donate soup weekly. He also takes charge when needed, even though he works full-time elsewhere. Erbert taught his own children to volunteer with us during their teenage years and now brings his mother to help.
Irvin Henyu is the longest serving of many patrons-turned-volunteers, having been with us almost since the start. He was married and baptized in our Terrace church in 2000.
Glenda Bugler was a patron who has become a volunteer.
“We were down and out, and the soup kitchen helped with food costs, and it got me out of the house,” she said. “I feel like part of a group, I like the camaraderie, and I’m proud of helping out. My mom is proud of me too.”
Sally, a young adult, was a regular patron for a couple of years. After a prolonged absence we became concerned for her whereabouts. Then we saw her one day cashiering in a store. She had done educational upgrading, got a job, and no longer needed the help. This story has repeated itself innumerable times.
Two people in their 30s had never held jobs, yet they volunteered with us for two years or more. It gave them the confidence to go out and get jobs. They have both been employed ever since then.
We find it remarkable that when a Sunday morning volunteer quits, a new one starts immediately without any advertising on our part. The other volunteers recognize this as a providence of the Lord.
It’s hard to imagine life without the All Nations Centre in Terrace. Life is challenging enough for Native Canadians who may have mental health or addiction issues, limited income, and need the basics to live. We often put free tracts and books out for the patrons. We pray before the meal. Many patrons have told us that the soup kitchen is their church.
We were honored to have our efforts recognized by Terrace Mayor Carol LeClerc a few months ago.
“The contributions made by Ron and Delphine Dame running the Bread of Life Soup Kitchen in Terrace for close to 20 years are immeasurable,” she said. “For two people to tirelessly give up their Sundays to ensure the people who need a meal are fed goes above and beyond the call of duty. These two selfless people have shared their time, resources, and compassion with folks in need.”
Delphine and Ron Dame are retired and living in Terrace, British Columbia. They have a blended family of six adult children with 11 grandchildren and one great grandchild, all living in British Columbia. Bill Both is the communication director and head deacon of the Terrace Seventh-day Adventist Church.