Late in the afternoon before supper, the doors of Hope Cottage are locked. The plastic chairs are upside down on the long tables. The floors are still wet and glossy from the mop. Oldies blare from the kitchen speaker until Edward Hollett, Hope Cottage’s head cook and doorman for 21 years, turns the dial and everything goes quiet.
Hope Cottage is a soup kitchen on Brunswick Street in Halifax, operating since 1970. On weekdays, it serves brunch and supper. “Hope Cottage is integral to the community and those struggling with poverty,” says Carmen Boyko, director of fundraising and communications at Brunswick Street Mission. “It takes a village, and luckily we have a good group of organizations in the community.”
James Makita Coleski comes to Hope Cottage every day. “It means a meal and a table,” he says. Coleski and his wife are both in the Disability Support Program.
As of 2014, one in seven Halifax households are food insecure, according to Public Health. Food insecurity at the household level means people don’t have enough access to food because of financial restraints. The main cause of food insecurity is poverty. “I don’t see any security,” says Coleski, shaking his head. “The price of groceries goes up all the time, but our monthly income doesn’t.”
Coleski’s yellowed fingers tear at a piece of beef held in his spoon. “I’d like to get up at home and eat a bowl of cereal, but I can’t afford it.” He says the cheapest place to get milk is the Guardian Scotia Pharmacy on Gottingen Street, $3.50 for two litres. A young blonde woman in pyjama pants angrily nods in agreement a few chairs away. Her name is Tiffany Caines, and she also buys her milk from the Guardian.
For Coleski, the best part of coming to Hope Cottage is the food and the people. Caines pipes in from down the table: “I was going to say seeing each other! I only come here to see you!”
Hollett says he understands the people who come to Hope Cottage. He had issues with addiction like Coleski and Caines. Hollett got help 26 years ago, and Coleski has been clean for three years. Over his stew, Coleski says, “Now I’m doing good, but I still can’t eat my cereal at home.”
Hollett remembers one man that came into the soup kitchen. Hollett asked how he was, and the man responded, “I’m here, how do you think I am?” Hollett describes pulling the man aside, explaining to him that everyone’s going through something but you still have to be nice. The man apologized for speaking to Hollett that way, but said that honestly, he was about to go jump off a bridge.
Hollett says, “I sat him down in the office. I made him make me a promise, because I learned in a class that if someone is suicidal and they make a promise, they will keep that promise.” Hollett wrote down the number of a help line, and the man swore to call it before he jumped. “He took the card and walked out the door. I never saw him again.”
Hollett’s voice shakes, the story isn’t over. “My sister moved into a new apartment,” he says. “She told me, ‘There’s a guy who lives in my building, and he says you saved his life.’” Hollett wipes the tears off his face with the rough skin of the back of his hand. He stands up to get a tissue, and each step squeaks along the clean floor.
When he sits back down, he says, “It’s just nice to be here for them. Because I’ve been out there.”