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Nelson diner owners say demand has increased for free meal program

Wait’s on Nelson offers meals of up to $20 daily to people in need
Wait’s on Nelson owners Alyx Graham-Taylor (left) and Mari Plamondon say there is an increase in customers accessing their free meal program. Photo: Tyler Harper

The owners of a Nelson diner say they are concerned by an increased need for its free meals program.

Alyx Graham-Taylor and Mari Plamondon of Wait’s on Nelson offer one meal of up to $20 daily to people who can’t afford to pay for their own. The suspended food program is funded by customer donations, but when those run out the diner continues to pay for the meals at its own cost.

The program has been running since 2010, but Graham-Taylor and Plamondon say this year more people are relying on the diner to be fed. At Christmas they had $1,500 in donations to pay for the meals, but those funds were used up by the end of February.

The pair also believe there’s been more requests for help since the closure last month of the Coordinated Access Hub, which offered a variety of social services.

“It’s never been this bad before,” said Graham-Taylor. “People have never been in this much need.”

Wait’s on Nelson is one of just two places to get a free meal in the city. The other is Our Daily Bread, which has a hot lunch program. Salvation Army ended its drop-in breakfast and lunch service in March 2023, but still operates a food bank as does Nelson Community Food Centre.

It costs an estimated $250-to-$300 weekly to pay for Wait’s program, which doesn’t include a monthly free community dinner the diner hosts.

Plamondon said in lean times they’ve had to limit what they can offer, but they never turn anyone down.

“There is no qualification. If you’re hungry, we’ll feed you. We don’t need to know the circumstance, there’s no excuse. People deserve to be fed. The community just needs to know there is a cost.”

Wait’s News, as it was formerly called, was previously located downtown at Baker and Ward Streets for 80 years before moving to its current location on Nelson Avenue in 2019.

Graham-Taylor said it used to be that when the diner was downtown, there were fewer customers who needed a free meal and they tended to be more sheepish when asking.

Now they have more people coming through their door who rely on the diner for their daily nutrition. Graham-Taylor estimates Wait’s has four regulars who come by every week day for breakfast, plus about 12 more free meals that are cooked over the weekends.

Meanwhile, Nelson is an increasingly expensive city to live in.

An annual report by Living Wage for Families BC found the hourly wages required for two working parents with two young children to meet their basic expenses was $21.14 in 2023. That is the fourth lowest among 20 B.C. communities in the report, but was also an increase of 1.5 per cent over 2022.

Plamondon stressed she still wants people in need to visit Wait’s. They plan to continue offering free meals, even if it is at their own expense. But it’s clear to her that more help is needed in Nelson.

The pair would like to see more restaurants offer similar programs. Thor’s Pizza has offered a pay-it-forward initiative since 2016, and Graham-Taylor wants other restaurant owners to consider how they might help.

“If other businesses did this, and were tolerant in the same kind of way, and had just a pay-it-forward jar like we do, then it would be easier for everybody.”

Tyler Harper

About the Author: Tyler Harper

I’m editor-reporter at the Nelson Star, where I’ve worked since 2015.
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