Niagara Regional Police, members of the Police Services Board, and local volunteers pose for a photo after a successful meal service on Monday afternoon in Niagara Falls.
With wintry weather abruptly afoot, many of the region’s community centres and soup kitchens are seeing an uptick in public need.
From high school students to retirees, legions of selfless Niagarans from every walk of life are coming together — like they do every year — to accommodate the growing demand.
On Monday, Niagara Regional Police joined re-elected regional councillor Bob Gale and a small army of volunteers at Niagara Falls Community Outreach’s soup kitchen to pitch-in and do their part.
The St. Lawrence Ave. facility serves in excess of 40,000 meals a year and has been dubbed Niagara Falls’ “littlest gem” by Mayor Jim Diodati.
Chris Watling, chairperson of the board that oversees the kitchen’s operation, spoke about the herculean task of providing daily nutrition to hundreds of the community’s less fortunate.
“We have a rotating volunteer staff of 300 people. Typically, anywhere from 8 to 12 individuals are needed to run a meal service”, said Watling.
“For lunch, the doors open at 11:45am. We stop serving and the doors are locked at 12:55am. The room is cleaned and within about half-an-hour a new crew comes in and supper prep begins. There’s no downtime.”
Councillor Gale and his family have been involved with the soup kitchen, in one capacity or another, for years.
“It started with my father”, said Gale. “His charity has been donating time and money for decades”.
Gale, who calls himself the facility’s “dirty man” (usually entrusted with transporting messy trays and cleaning dishes), had nothing but the highest praise for Chris and her team.
“The impact this kitchen has on the community is incredible”, said Gale. “And no one’s getting paid here. This is a voluntary force and they do an amazing job”.
The Niagara Falls regional councillor also praised members of the police force for stepping up.
“I am so proud of the NRP staff. They understand what it means to be a part of a community”.
Just a few months ago, the region’s current chief of police, Bryan McCulloch, won the Order of Merit of Police Forces. The accolade is one of the top honours any police officer can receive in Canada and is only conferred upon those who illustrate “exceptional merit” and produce career-long “contributions to policing and community development”.
Vice chair of the Police Service Board, Ken Gansel, described how Monday’s efforts represent only one outreach initiative in a long-line of charitable causes that Chief McCulloch and the police are involved in.
“Niagara’s police can be found volunteering everywhere. It’s just that they don’t require or want recognition”, said Gansel. “I know for me, personally, simply helping others is the reward”.
Chief McCulloch said that it’s important for those in uniform to give back to the community, as they are part of the community.
“We’re all part of the larger community. We coach our kids’ baseball and soccer teams. We’re all the same”, said McCulloch. “It’s important to give back. Anyone of us could find ourselves in need at some point”.
When asked if volunteering helps break down the walls between the sometimes (mistakenly) feared police and the more vulnerable members of the public, McCulloch said: “absolutely”.
Ryan DeGiuli, a first-time volunteer and auxiliary police officer, said that he enjoyed the experience and everyone was “very grateful”.
DeGiuli’s colleague, Shelly Piccirillo, called the soup kitchen a “safe zone” that offers more than a warm meal.
“Outside of nourishment, people here are given someone to talk to. It helps their attitude and often times improves their day”, said Piccirillo.
Peter and Diane Gardner, a newly married couple that actually met at the soup kitchen, echoed Piccirillo’s sentiment.
“This place means a lot to me socially”, said Peter. “I come in regularly and see so many familiar faces. It helps with my health – not only physically, but mentally”.
For information about Niagara Falls Community Outreach and to find out how you can donate or volunteer your time, visit: