October 19th, 2020

Soup kitchen taking measures to keep staff and guests safe


By Jensen, Randy on April 17, 2020.

Executive director Bill Ginther says the Lethbridge Soup Kitchen is taking measures to keep guests, staff and volunteers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald

tkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

The Lethbridge Soup Kitchen has taken extraordinary measures to keep guests, staff members and volunteers safe as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to make its presence felt.

This was the message Bill Ginther, executive director of the Lethbridge Soup Kitchen, wanted to convey to viewers during the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs weekly speaker series via YouTube livestream on Thursday.

“Despite being told we are exempt (from public health orders), we have still done everything possible to implement measures that will provide a safe environment for our guests, our volunteers and our staff,” he said.

These measures include limiting seating to two people per table, introducing strict hand-washing measures, using disposable settings that are replaced after every client, strict policies surrounding the wearing of disposable gloves at all times for staff and volunteers, pre-setting meals up on tables instead of creating lineups for food, and strict social distancing policies which keep people two metres apart at all times and do not allow for socializing between tables.

There are a few areas where the Lethbridge Soup Kitchen has taken criticism, Ginther admitted. One of those areas is because of the lineups often seen outside of the building as guests wait to be allowed in. Ginther said there is very little he and his staff could do about such lineups.

“It is extremely difficult, and virtually impossible, to control and physically distance folks that are homeless,” he stated. “As we know, homeless folks will gather. It’s what they do. The gathering is for their own community because they don’t have a place to gather. Secondly, they gather so they can exchange those items you and I would wish they didn’t. They also are very community-minded in terms that they stick together like brothers and sisters.

“One of the things we have discovered, and have realized, is that it is not our mandate to control people outside of our building because we know when they come in we do have spaces allotted for them in two-metre sections,” Ginther added. “When they come into our building we make sure that is followed, but when they leave our building they come right back together.”

Ginther said he has received phone calls from people complaining about the issue.

“I had one person reach me about two weeks ago who was upset that we weren’t doing anything about the outside physical distancing, and my response to her would be the same to everyone: if you want to come to our facility and assist us with the distancing outside we would welcome you and wish you the best,” he explained.

Another thing the soup kitchen has resisted, he said, is making volunteers or staff members wear medical masks.

“We have decided that at this point there is no proven evidence whether it is a good idea or it is not a good idea,” he explained. “Rather than instil fear in our guests by seeing people in masks all around them, we would not want that to happen.”

Ginther said any potential volunteer who is feeling or showing anxiety when working with guests, should probably just stay home rather than come in. There are other ways to help, he said. In fact, Lethbridge residents have stepped up in a big way during this crisis with donations of both cash and food.

“I do know there is very little dignity when you are on the wrong side of a soup kitchen line,” Ginther stated. “This is not a place where people want to be. I am convinced there is no one who has ever stated that when I grow up I am going to live in poverty. I am going to be poor. I am going to be lined up with my hand out with the hope there will be people that will provide my day-to-day needs. No one aspires to that. I am fully aware that most of our guests would not be where they are if their circumstances were better.”

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