The menu was being handed out in Church by Barb Vyse to the St. Michael's team. Jambalaya, Seafood Chowder, Ham and Scalloped Potatoes, Tuna Casserole, Turkey Pilaf. The menu and recipes, and the crew roster had been prepared by Barb.

It all looked so good, and all of it for the homeless, hungry people who would gather under the Gateway Skytrain Station in Surrey to receive what would be their only meal for the day.

Handing out food for the homeless.(Jessie Ellis photos)

No-one can know what real hunger is like, unless they've experienced it. The smell of food tears at the vacuum of your stomach and compels you to fill the void immediately. It is an overwhelming, desperate need.

A man approached while the food was being set out, and in a strained voice he asked, "Can I please have a piece of bread?”

"You'll have to get into the line-up, Sir," the helper told him.

"Could I please just have a piece of bread?" he persisted.

"Sorry, Sir, you'll have to get in the line-up.”

"I haven't eaten for three days." The urgency made his voice shrill. "Could I please have a piece of bread?”

"No. If I let you go first, everyone else will want to go first.”

"Could I please have a piece of bread?”

A hand gave him some bread. He took it, trying hard not to grab.

The Night Shift is a cooperation of several churches of different denominations whose members provide a nourishing, hot meal every night of the year, and necessary personal items, with care and connection for homeless people in Surrey.

As St. Michael's Zelda Frost said, "On Wednesday nights the Anglicans cook at the Mennonite kitchen, and the Baptists dish it out that evening.”

There are 19 to 20 people on the St. Michael's Night Shift crew. Each Wednesday, Barb Vyse or Elmer Clarke or both lead about five of them to the kitchen at the Mennonite Church to prepare the meal. Barb or Elmer do the cooking, while the others chop the veggies, open cans, and do all the other preparation. The warehouse was recently donated by a benefactor to store all donated items. Right now it's still almost empty, so there is a shortage of items needed to make the meals, and the organisers are appealing for tins of soup - cream of chicken, mushroom, and tomato - and tins of corn, kidney beans, and baked beans, and tomato sauce.

Three huge pots are filled with the day's menu item, steam rises, and enough food is cooked to feed approximately 150 people.

The food is picked up by a cube van which has a trailer attached fitted out as a mobile kitchen, and by 7 pm it is parked under the Gateway Skytrain Station in Surrey.

A lot of the hungry diners are regulars. There are also a fair number who are just passing through. Some are already lined up when the van and trailer pull in.

Waiting for the truck and kitchen to open under the Gateway Skytrain station.

Once the line is moving, and people are receiving the hot meal in disposable containers, helpers in the mobile kitchen set to work making peanut butter and jam sandwiches so that everyone gets a sandwich in a bag to carry them over the next twenty-four hours. If there is some food over, the "first-timers" can return for another serving.

The Street Ministry begins its work when clothing and personal items are given out, then the ministry of love is offered to those who come. The truck is packed with necessities of daily living, and people come forward and ask for what they need.

Warm clothing is always wanted, and socks, socks, socks. Blankets are always desperately needed and are a lifesaver in the colder months. Then there's underwear, baseball caps, soap, toothbrushes, small toothpastes, hand lotion, suntan lotion, and other personal hygiene items - all are urgently needed. Sometimes sample packs of creams, or shampoo are popped in with essentials.

Ideally, cast-off back-packs and duffle bags suitable for carrying the personal items are donated, but there are never enough of these.

Zelda Frost from St. Michael's is always happy to rush out and buy some more things when a donation of cash is received. She'll get the best bargain possible. Zelda really cares for the people she helps. She comforts and encourages them and tries to help them find a way back to the life they really want.

"Sometimes," she says, "I lose them, and that is so difficult for me to accept.”

Anyone who wants to donate, or help in any way, please phone St. Michael's Church, 604 591-8323. This story first appeared in the St. Michael's Messenger.

Waiting for the truck and kitchen to open under the Gateway Skytrain station. Jessie Ellis photo