The day starts early for the dedicated group of volunteers at the Dugout; Chris has the soup on before 4am every morning. He is followed shortly after by Wally who starts the coffee, and then by the others: Don, Jimmy, and Barry. Chris, a quiet, gentle man with kind eyes from County Meade in Ireland, used to wait in the soup line before he began volunteering seven days a week at the Dugout four years ago.

After the morning rush has died down and the last cups of hot soup are slurped by hungry mouths, a few people are still sitting at the cafe tables that seat four a piece, chatting with their neighbours. Don announces that the Dugout will soon close for 30 minutes, then beams about the “all sorts of people from the serious to the sublime” that visit the Dugout. He states proudly, “… whether you are down and out or not, we hope to brighten your spirits” and his eyes sparkle.

The day starts early for the dedicated group of volunteers at the Dugout; Chris has the soup on before 4am every morning.

He is followed shortly after by Wally who starts the coffee, and then by the others: Don, Jimmy, and Barry. Chris, a quiet, gentle man with kind eyes from County Meade in Ireland, used to wait in the soup line before he began volunteering seven days a week at the Dugout four years ago.

After the morning rush has died down and the last cups of hot soup are slurped by hungry mouths, a few people are still sitting at the cafe tables that seat four a piece, chatting with their neighbours. Don announces that the Dugout will soon close for 30 minutes, then beams about the “all sorts of people from the serious to the sublime” that visit the Dugout. He states proudly, “… whether you are down and out or not, we hope to brighten your spirits” and his eyes sparkle.

As soon as the doors reopen at 8:30 people surge in once more, grab a loaf of bread or a pastry and a hot cup of coffee. Jimmy jokes as he chops onions for tomorrow’s soup, Barry chuckles in response and refers to a customer by name while serving up a danish.

The air is interesting; humble, raw, honest, caring. Each person who walks through the doors of the Dugout has his or her own troubles but is treated with respect. Barry feels that although many people in the inner city struggle to survive each day “everybody has a life history and I don’t believe in being judgmental”. The volunteers exude respect for each other and every person who walks in the door. Jimmy explains, “I work hard here at the little things… because something simple like a clean place to eat can make a difference”.

 

Founded in 1968 by Central City Foundation, the Dugout has indeed been brightening spirits and providing refuge for inner city residents. Like the trenches in the Second World War, the Dugout is a place of shelter and a respite from the chaos of surviving in the city. People who live in single room occupancy (SRO) accommodation live in very small quarters. The Dugout provides not only a hot meal, but also a living space where neighbours can connect with neighbours in a relaxed environment. Because of the generosity and commitment of CCF donors, this space has been continuously available for 43 years.

A man walks in with stitches that start at his wrist, trail up his arm and disappear underneath his ¾ length sleeve. “This is the worst day of my life” he says to anyone who will hear. Barry and Jimmy listen while he recounts the tale of injury, hospitalization, and release. When finished, he is offered a bowl of soup left over from the morning’s meal. They chat for a while about how over 200 people were fed earlier; the man seems calmed by the simplicity of the moment. He takes his soup along with a “have a good day” and walks out into the city.

Loaves of bread now line the counter, kept company by a boxful of broccoli. Many people file in, take a loaf of bread, and linger for a moment to chat. An older woman counts her change for a cup of coffee and points to the fresh pastries that Barry is serving, “I wonder if they got anything here for me with no calories?” she jokes with me. I join her at a table and we begin to chat about her life, her passion for poetry, and meeting new people.

Sharon is 82 years young and no longer lives in the inner city but she still comes to the Dugout every day (as she has for 37 years) for the AA meetings. Sharon started coming to the Dugout in 1974 when she was living in the Downtown Eastside. She came to have a meal, chat with neighbours, and get clean. Since then she has been sober, reconnected with family, moved out of her SRO, and sponsored many younger women at the Dugout. Sharon makes it her mission to listen to them, “it’s one of the greatest things, to be heard, because it validates you.”

The Dugout is full of life yet a tranquil contentment fills the space. It truly is the inner city’s living room where people are respected for who they are and where they are at.

For over one hundred years, Central City Foundation has been a part of many stories like this through the commitment and generosity of our donors.

Because of good neighbours like you, Central City Foundation is able to continue investing community donations back into the inner city, improving lives and building hope.

How do you build hope?