With a heart for those at rock bottom, Mike Ettagiak sets out behind the wheel of his work van, checking on people who are gripped by addiction on Nanaimo’s streets.
It’s a place he knows well. A year ago, he was living on the streets too.
Now in recovery, and with a roof over his head, the 52-year-old is working for the Stone Soup kitchen, delivering bagged lunches and acceptance that he once received.
“I have an understanding of what they’re going through — I cannot stress that enough. If I can reach one person out of 10, I’m happy,” Ettagiak told CHEK News. “I’m so happy, man.”
When making his usual rounds on Wednesday, Nov. 8, he says he saved a man who was overdosing.
“For me, it’s all about giving back to our community,” said Ettagiak.
At a time of extreme need, Stone Soup started delivering food to those on the Harbour City’s streets and in poverty in 2017. They needed to fill 100 bagged meals then, and now it’s soaring to 250 nightly, according to organizers.
Donations come each day, and all are cooked up by volunteers who work out of a kitchen on Fitzwilliam Street.
The program is operated by the Wisteria Community Association.
“Oh my goodness, tonight we’ve got beef brisket sandwiches, we’ve got squash soup. Two hundred and fifty every night, and we do that seven days a week,” said Gaylene Singer, a volunteer chef with Stone Soup.
“There’s so many of them, and they’re not just in the downtown core. Even in the north end, we have homeless people,” added Doug Hiltz, the program’s founder.
Speaking with CHEK News, he says he worries about the cold months ahead since the number of those in need is rising. He’s also noticed more people are living out of their cars.
“That’s the problem with a lot of people. They want to get off the street, but they can’t find a place they can afford,” said Hiltz.
So Ettagiak keeps driving, delivering meals and his own story of overcoming odds and addiction to people who are now where he’s been.
“How you doin’ bro? You OK, buddy?” he asked one person on the street when handing out meals.
Now clean and sober and on the other side of this exchange, he tells every person they can make it — just like he did.