A bagged lunch program helping the hungry in Smiths Falls almost came to an end in late December but, thanks to a group of local realtors, the program will now continue.
Trinity United Church has been running the brown bags & blessings program on Tuesday and Saturdays since the COVID-19 pandemic began last March.
"We very quickly very turned from the meal program we had before to a COVID response," said Minister Christopher Ryan. "We were supported very generously from the province and federal government through the social services relief fund."
The program started in 2017 for those who could not attend fellowship on Sunday, with a relaxed meal and worship happening 2 days a week.
"We went from 70 participants on a Tuesday prior to the pandemic to 340 meals distributed or delivered since the pandemic. We were very quickly able to do that because we were well situated and well supported before hand and it has been wonderfully satisfactory," Ryan added.
"The increase, of course, is a consequence of COVID-19 and would include people who became marginally employed, unemployed or not able to get out as they would normally like because of COVID-19 limitations."
Betty Lou Kempt is the volunteer organizer of the program and sent a plea out in December that funding for the program was about to dry up.
"It was not only a disappointment that I wouldn't be able to feed the people, but it was also a disappointment that I couldn't give them some encouragement every week, that people are thinking about you and caring about you," Kempt said.
The bagged meal put together, with the help from Two Guys for Lunch Caterers, consists of a sandwich and soup or salad, along with a drink and dessert. A prayer and blessing paper is also in the bag, displaying upcoming events in the community.
"When I told them back in December that this program might end, they were very disappointed. We were in tears." Kempt said.
When realtor Linda McKenna heard the news, she reached out to the realtor community to see if some funds could be raised.
"In the back of my mind I thought 'wouldn't it be awesome if we could get to the end of March?'" McKenna said. "It was on Dec. 18, late in the day, I sent out an email to all the realtors in Smiths Falls, just outlining what the program was about wondering if they would like to contribute to make this program able to continue."
She said within an hour of sending that out, seven thousand dollars was raised.
"It was just so awesome. So, it kind of just went from there," she said.
More than 15 realtors raised a total of $11,500 with another $5000 added by a private donor.
The money was delivered right before Christmas so the program could continue.
"I asked for my stocking to be filled, and the community stepped up and overfilled it so now we should be going on until at least May," Kempt said.
"A lot of realtors said it just really made Christmas," added McKenna. "This year has been so difficult for so many. It's been dark and it's been hard we just really felt privileged to kind of shed a little light and bring some good news and that's what happens when a community comes together."
"All I did was ask and they stepped up to the plate," McKenna said, adding that Kempt was overwhelmed with the total raised.
"She said that her stocking was overflowing and that we had a Christmas miracle. This lunch program, it's showing people that people care, that they are not alone through this and the community is behind them." McKenna said.
"They are very appreciative," said Kempt pointing to a bulletin board across the room. "They leave me notes, they definitely are supportive and they look forward to it and we do have a little chat out there sometimes when they are picking up their lunch."
"I have a whole team with me and they are awesome. They step up and help me wherever I need it," kempt added. "I have a community that is enthusiastic about keeping this program going and I have a minister that backs me 100 per cent. I just want to say thank you to everybody. Without everybody this would not happen, and it's such an ongoing needed mission not only in the community but in every community."