THUNDER BAY – Forty years ago, Sister Roberta Derochie was feeding Thunder Bay’s hungriest residents out the backdoor of St. Andrew’s Church.
As word spread, more and more people began to show up, looking for a meal.
It quickly became clear there was a nutritional gap that needed filling in the city, and thanks to Derochie’s vision, the Dew Drop Inn was born.
Housed in Parish Hall, which served as St. Andrew’s Church from 1882 to 1924, the Dew Drop Inn had humble beginnings. But with the onset of COVID-19, it’s become a lifeline for Thunder Bay’s downtrodden, a haven for the city’s hungry.
Lelia Lovis, a longtime volunteer at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, said when COVID-19 forced hospital officials to limit the organization’s volunteer program, the 93-year-old decided to look into volunteering elsewhere, and settled on the Dew Drop Inn.
For the past year she’s been volunteering twice a week and said she had no idea of just how serious a problem hunger was in the city.
It’s been a real eye opener, she said on Tuesday, helping make and package sandwiches as the Dew Drop Inn quietly celebrated its 40th anniversary.
“Being at the hospital, I didn’t realize there were so many people that didn’t have enough to eat,” Lovis said, noting when the weather gets nicer she plans to add an extra day to her current volunteer schedule.
“I knew the shelters (were full), but the days I’m here, there’s more than 300 coming through those doors.”
Lovis, who loves keeping busy, said it’s thoroughly satisfying to know how much the efforts of everyone involved with the Dew Drop Inn.
“I’m really excited about it,” she said.
Volunteers like Lovis are the heart and soul of the soup kitchen, which started out serving about 30 people a day, a number that has ballooned by about 10 times that amount since the pandemic arrived in Thunder Bay.
Michael Quiebell, the executive director of the Dew Drop Inn, said it’s become a pretty well-oiled machine over the decades.
“Basically we are producing meals for about 300 people a day, plus we’re doing take-home lunches for about 100 people a day,” he said.
“We have eight volunteers in the morning and eight volunteers in the afternoon, plus staff. In the morning they’re preparing the meal for the day and then in the afternoon they’re preparing the meal for tomorrow. We’re always trying to stay ahead of ourselves.”
Unfortunately, Quibell said, the issues of hunger and poverty aren’t getting any better. In fact, they’re getting worse, with so many businesses closed due to COVID-19 and hundreds of people out of work as a result.
“Last year it definitely impacted our numbers. We served 110,565 meals, which is 20,000 more than in 2019,” Quibell said.
It’s all in a day’s work, he added.
“It’s said that people are struggling to put food on the table, but we’re really grateful that we’re here to provide them with a nourishing meal.”
In addition to receiving a meal, patrons are also encouraged to take home any surplus food, like bread and rolls, to help keep them fed between meals.
The Dew Drop Inn is supported with the help of 26 church and community groups, along with individual donors, who ensure there is enough food to feed everyone who needs it.