Two-year-old Amelia Wilson was sound asleep in her stroller as her parents ate at the Salvation Army’s lunch program Wednesday.

“Times are hard,” said her 24-year-old dad Alan Wilson.

“Very hard right now but we’re making it through.”

They are among the growing number of young families and seniors that use the Salvation Army’s New Hope Centre in Nanaimo for its lunch program.

“Basically better than nothing, when we have nothing,” said Wilson.

They sat next to senior Kate Blanchard, who was excited she was given two salads.

“I’m just grateful to get the food,” said Blanchard.

“But I like that it’s a program with a heart. I like the tree and the decorations.”

The Nanaimo woman says the daily lunch is vital to helping her stretch her food budget.

“There’s lots of needy people,” said Blanchard.

“At least someone cares at Salvation Army.”

“This meal program is so important to the community,” said Kim Maandag, the Community Ministries Director for Nanaimo’s Salvation Army.

“We serve over 90,000 meals a year in this little dining room,” she said.

According to Salvation Army officials, they couldn’t do it without the donations collected during the Christmas season.

“The funds that we get at Christmas time really see us through,” said Maandag.

“So the kettles are important. The Give and Go (CHEK News Drive-Thru) is important.

The chef preparing the meals, said he is living proof of how a stable place to get a meal, can help turn a life around.

“Absolutely, I’ve actually been there,” said Ed Orrey.

“I was living on the street,” said the New Hope Centre Chef.

Orrey needed this hand up himself during his years of addiction, and now clean and sober ge says it feels like he’s giving back by making nutritious dishes that help others step out of a life on the streets.

“You know if you’re struggling it’s a good place to come,” said Orrey.

The CHEK Christmas Drive-Thru is this Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. More information can be found here. 

Skye Ryan