A line of people snaked up to a table near 13th Street and Lincoln Avenue in Vancouver on Wednesday night.
A small group of masked volunteers passed out boxes of food that included stew, chili or pasta, fruit and dessert. The volunteer group Free Hot Soup Vancouver is nearing its sixth year of feeding the hungry in Clark County.
On Wednesday night, volunteers passed out hats, gloves, hand warmers, blankets and sleeping bags.
Tents lined the streets next to Share House. As the weather worsens this winter, the group is in need of more volunteers and donations to help people stay as warm and fed as possible.
Karen Morrison, a volunteer with Free Hot Soup Vancouver, said she’s worried about a lack of resources and shelter opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She thinks more people might be unhoused this winter.
In addition to the normal concerns that exist about housing people during winter, and the newer concerns about how to do that during a pandemic, Clark County announced earlier this week that it will shutter the temporary Motel 6 homeless shelter later this month.
The 116-room facility, which was housing 80 people, or 56 households as of Sunday, was designed as a COVID-19 quarantine spot, but has expanded to house people at high risk for the coronavirus.
On Monday, at least 36 of the 56 households did not know where they were going next.
A new shelter is expected to open in February or March, but Morrison says Clark County still has a dire need for safe, sanitary and affordable housing as well as affordable mental, dental and physical health services.
“You can’t fix every problem,” Morrison said through a blue face mask, “but we can be here. We can make eye contact with people. We can show we care.”
For the past couple of years, Free Hot Soup Vancouver has partnered with Clark County Food Bank to feed people experiencing food insecurity. The groups says it has shored up issues with food handling from five years ago.
Shelly Gaylor, a volunteer with Free Hot Soup Vancouver, said everyone who handles food has a food handler’s permit and that the group monitors food temperature.
Gaylor encourages people to visit on Wednesday or Saturday to observe Free Hot Soup Vancouver if they are interested in volunteering. Gaylor said her volunteerism has taught her to “never judge anybody. If they’re hungry, just give them a meal. Anybody could be in a tent.”
After passing out meals in July, Morrison mentioned the financial strain the pandemic has placed on people.
“There’s families living in ways that they never did before,” Morrison said. “The pandemic has changed everything.”
Kirk McKenzie, another volunteer with Free Hot Soup Vancouver, passed out hot coffee and hot chocolate Wednesday night. He has a similar perspective to Morrison’s and Gaylor’s.
McKenzie said volunteer work like this is an opportunity to give back to the community.
“Sometime, I might be on the other side of this table,” McKenzie said.