A cold man, a hot sub, and a warm conversation lie at the root of the now decade-old Vital Vittles program.
In a document written by the now-deceased Reverend Harry Eerkes, he recounts running into the renowned street person known locally as Donny on a wet drizzly cold November day. Donny was a local street personality who could be found most days with his dog St. Nicholas sitting outside the Sooke Liquor Store.
After buying Donny a hot submarine — that Donny shared with his dog St. Nicholas — Donny made a suggestion.
“This is really nice, sharing a coffee and having a good sandwich …. It would be good if there could be this place inside where we could warm up a little once in a while without spending a bunch of money.”
“OK, Donny, let me think about it,” responded Rev. Eerkes.
On November 13, just following this exchange, a meeting took place with Rev Eerkes, Leo Myers, Mr. Bill the sign maker, Andy Carrier (aka the Pizza Man), Lynda Rose and a few others. The response was instant.
According to Rev. Eerkes’ documentation, the conversation about the program’s start went something like this:
“Shouldn’t we set up some sort of planning committee and talk to the church council first?” someone tentatively asked.
“Naw that will just slow things down and keep it from happening.”
“Can we do it now?”
“If we don’t,” Andy Carrier challenged, “I’ll take the idea somewhere else.”
“Right. Do we go for it?”
“Yes!” was the unanimous vote.
“OK, I’ll ask for forgiveness later.”
Thus, proving that it’s sometimes easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission, the simply envisioned soup-and-sandwich Vital Vittles was born.
On November 21, 2003, the first Vital Vittles meal was served in the basement of the old Holy Trinity church to 25 guests. The menu of the inaugural lunch included a soup and sandwiches, fruit and cupcakes, and a variety of hot and cold beverages. The soup-and-sandwich grew into something much more substantial. There’s always a salad, a soup and a dessert. Andy donates pizza once a month. Dog food is also available on occasion.
During the first year, the free lunch received great community support from politicians, food providers and volunteers.
After a fire destroyed the Holy Trinity church in 2005, Vital Vittles was temporarily moved to the Sooke Family Resource Society, and the serving of meals continued. A dedicated team of volunteers made sure that not one week was missed. When the new church was completed, the meals returned to their new home and have been a weekly staple since.
The program is designed to embrace the community. As Rev. Eerkes wrote, “It is important for us that ‘Vital Vittles’ becomes a community, pulling together different people who might otherwise avoid each other.”
The range of people who come to eat is wide and varied. Young and old and those in between get something of value when they come to Vital Vitttles.
“Some people come to just ‘hang out’,” wrote Rev. Eerkes, “others come because this is one of the few — or only — nutritious meals of their week. Some take their children out of school so they can have a good meal. … Others come, not out of financial need, but because it is just a good place to be.”
“It’s a warm dry place to get a good meal and good company,” reinforced Shirley Roodbol, a volunteer of six years, on the day of their 10th birthday.
“The fellowship is important,” confirmed Mary Brown, a volunteer of nine years. “People are totally accepted here. There is no checking at the door. Not only to the volunteers enjoy working here, we find friendships developing between the diners and the volunteers.”
The food served without ceremony. It’s a non-denominational event with an emphasis on compassion and human fellowship.
Guest Jason Coly-Coly shares their views. “Everyone should have a place to hang their hat and have a belly full of food.”
Ongoing support comes from a number of organizations and businesses in Sooke, and among their number are Andy’s Two-for-One Pizza, Reading Room Cafe, Little Vienna Bakery, and Celtic Circle of Sooke Society. A number of anonymous supporters have significantly contributed to the ability of Vital Vittles to survive. Most notable in this category is one supporter who has given well over $5,000 in two separate — and incredibly generous — donations.
Volunteers have been abundant in both numbers and in their giving. Names include (but are certainly not limited to) Leo, Mary, Shirley, Ruth, Bob, Don, Jim, Cathy, Ian, Richard, Kit, Pat, Evan, Kathleen, Roz, Leio, Cy, Broc, Shirley, Tony, Judy, Reverand Dolly, and a number of Canada World Youth who have contributed to the program.
Coordinators have included Lynda Rose (2003-5), Shirley Roodbol (2005-12), and Deacon Wally Eamer (2012-present).
According to a website post by the Holy Trinity Anglican Church (holytrinitysookebc.org/harry_eerkes.htm), Rev. Eerkes, born in 1941, had a convoluted journey into the priesthood. After four years of teaching school, he earned a degree in Psychology and he worked as a clinical psychologist and a teacher of psychology. Eerkes eventually moved into a specialty of working with people with acquired brain injury. In 1990 he finally gave in to the life-long call to ministry in the church. During his ten years of ordained ministry he served five years as the rector of Holy Trinity Church in Sooke. Eerkes died of cancer on October 3, 2012. Donny also passed away at least three years ago according to Myers. Their conversation, which ultimately culminated into the Vital Vittles program that exists today and carried out by a committed team of volunteers, has had a timeless reach.