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North Bay's The Gathering Places faces uncertain future, scales back outreach services

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North Bay’s soup kitchen, The Gathering Place, on Cassells Street fears it could have to close its doors later this year, as early as the fall.

The Gathering Place in North Bay in December 2021. (File photo/Eric Taschner/CTV News Northern Ontario)

Donations at Christmas significantly dropped compared to previous years and donations continue to drop as many people are feeling the pinch in their wallets.

As a donation-based charity, this trickle-down effect is seriously hurting the soup kitchen, according to its executive director.

“If this trend continues, we’re not sure we can stay open,” Dennis Chippa said.

This has forced the soup kitchen to significantly scale back its crucial services for people homeless or living on the cusp of homelessness in North Bay and its surrounding area.

The soup kitchen is cutting back on to-go meals. The outreach program is also now on pause. This means outreach staff have been reduced to part-time hours.

“You get to know these folks. You know them all and how difficult it is for them on a day-to-day basis and then you can’t provide that support you’ve been doing,” said Chippa.

"It’s a concern."

Chippa told CTV News that he fears closing the doors would put major pressure on area food banks and local church food banks.

In early November, the soup kitchen announced it was pausing its outreach service to West Nipissing due to a severe lack of funding and the loss of its outreach services kitchen used to cook food.

Staff would normally serve around 700 meals a week for that town's homeless and others who need a meal.

“There is no real core funding for an agency like ours,” Chippa said. “We don’t fit some of the niches that things like food banks would. We’re not part of Food Banks Canada because we’re not a food bank.”

The staff also run the city's warming centre during the winter months and when its doors were opened for meals, Chippa and the rest of the staff said they would normally see a reduction in clients - that didn’t happen this winter.

“Today for lunch we saw between 112-115 people. We used to see 90,” said Chippa.

“At dinner, we would see 110 or 115. Now we’re seeing between 130-140.”

Chippa said he fears that without donations to help stop the financial bleeding, the doors will close even sooner.

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