BELLEVILLE – The aroma of onions, spices and chicken cacciatore filled the kitchen and gymnasium at Bridge Street United Church  Wednesday night.
The church’s ‘Inn From The Cold’ program is in full operation again, helping less fortunate people during the coldest time of the year.
“I don’t know what people would do without this place. It’s amazing. Just because we’re poor doesn’t mean we deserve to eat crap,” said one attendee.
Every day from Jan. 18 to Feb. 28, volunteers with the program offer a free three-course meal to anyone who comes through the church doors. It’s open at 4 p.m., serving coffee and soup at 4:30 p.m. and dinner and dessert from 5 to 6:30 p.m. There is no cost for the meal and no registration is required.
The annual program aims to help people at a time of the year when costs for heating and electricity spike and there’s less money available for groceries.
“There are a lot of people in this community that are experiencing hunger and food insecurity,” said one of the church’s program co-ordinators, Steve van de Hoef.
Van de Hoef went on to say that Hastings and Prince Edward County and Belleville have one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the province.
“This program helps to alleviate the hunger that is a result of that,” he said.
This is the 20th year that ‘Inn From The Cold’ has been running and it’s busier than ever.
“Our numbers are up,” van de Hoef said.
Not only does the program offer a warm and healthy meal every evening, but it also provides as a social outlet. Two men who came for the dinner on Wednesday evening, who requested to remain anonymous, said it is a great way to make new friends.
“I come more for the social thing, that aspect of it is great,” one said, as he finished his bowl of minestrone soup.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to just sit and have a conversation, all while eating a great nutritious meal,” said the other.
The program runs through the end of the month. Anyone who is unable to make it to the church for the hot meal can pick up frozen meals daily from 2 to 4 p.m.
For more information on Bridge Street United Church’s food programs, visit their page .