Day program opening to serve daily meals to those in need

Food preparation staff will be separated from clients to maintain physical distancing

The Gate serves two meals a day to those in need and will open it's doors next week for clients to eat inside (Kelly Skjerven/Daily Herald)

A day program run out of the Union Centre on 8th Street in Prince Albert will be opening its doors to those in need next week.

The program is run in partnership with River Bank Development Corporation, PAGC Urban Services, and Gateway Covenant Church.

River Bank was able to fund the program through their management of the Reaching Home program that provides cities with federal funding to put towards homelessness strategies.

Previously a city would receive around $600,000 in funding through the program. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking a toll on vulnerable members in the community, Reaching Home boosted funding by about an additional $1 million.

The groups involved are currently working on setting up the indoor space, but have been handing out meals for people to take with them.

Brian Howell, manager of River Bank, said fortunately it’s been warm out for people to take their meals to go, but by next week set up will be complete and clients will be able to eat inside.

Kitchen and serving staff are separated from clients and meals are placed on a table. Clients will take their meals to chairs that are physically distanced.

“Because of the increasing amount of (COVID-19 cases) we’ve had to take some additional precautions to make sure that the group of servers and the group of clients are well separated because either one could have COVID and give it to the other,” Howell said.

The group hasn’t set up tables because Howell said they tend to lead to people “bunching up”, which the group wants to avoid to mitigate any risk of transmission.

“It doesn’t reflect on this population at all. We’re not trying to make any statements here. We’re just really trying to keep everybody safe and get some food into them and get them warmed up without doing any harm.”

The program, named ‘The Gate’, will open its doors at 10:30 a.m. and serve sandwiches, coffee and water. In the afternoon, a hot meal like soup, stew or sandwiches will be served around 2:30.

The Gate will close its doors between each meal to clean and sanitize.

Howell estimates the group has been serving about 30 people for lunch a day, but said a lot of people are in the quarantine hotel program after a COVID-19 outbreak at the cold weather shelter. He imagines they could be serving up to 50 or 60 people once those people leave the hotel.

Howell said the program will probably shift into a warm-up centre during the day, depending on the need. Many places that people used to go to warm up, such as the hospital and retail stores, are more restricted now with the pandemic.

“Really what we’re committed to do is make sure that people aren’t out in the cold with no place to go when it’s 30 below,” Howell said.