When the story of the local soup kitchen’s financial struggles appeared in the Star in early March it had been almost two years since Rita Chretien and her husband set out on a road trip to Las Vegas for a trade show.
The couple attracted attention world wide as they became lost along a scenic route, their van stuck in the mud far off the main roads.
“Many people all over Canada and the USA and even Africa, prayed for us when we went missing,” said Chretien in a letter written to Pastor Jim Reimer at the Kootenay Christian Fellowship. “I want to give back something to others in need in other communities too because others cared for me and my family when we were in need of prayer, while we waited to hear news of Albert being found.”
Albert Chretien, Rita’s husband of 39 years, reluctantly left the site of the van on March 21, 2011 after it became clear the bogged-in-mud vehicle wasn’t going anywhere. He died along the way to get help but his remains weren’t found until September 30, 2012.
Rita was alone, cold and hungry until discovered by some hunters and rescued just in time on May 6.
“During those 49 days God’s word was my Daily Bread,” Rita wrote. “The Daily Bread devotional book had been an important part of my life since I was a little girl. My mother read it with us every morning before school, before we ate breakfast. She said to us one day when one of my brothers complained that we had to read before eating, ‘God’s word is our food.’ That has stuck with me all these years.”
Crediting her bible with sustaining her along with rations of trail mix, hard candies and fish oil capsules, Rita’s story is one of faith. And now, giving back to those she sees in similar need.
“The Lord has nudged me to pay attention to your need,” she told Reimer upon learning that Our Daily Bread was dangerously close to being broke which would mean an end to hot meals for those who struggle in life. “God bless you and your church family for all the love and care that you show to people in need.”
Our Daily Bread relies on donations to daily feed between 50 to 70 disadvantaged people a hot nutritious lunch. Last month, Pastor Reimer sounded the alarm bell as funds coming into support operational costs were half of what they were in the previous year — and the year before that.
Public response has been overwhelming, he said, with Rita’s offer to help being one of a number of touching stories.
“This story of Rita just touched my heart,” said Reimer. “She’s an amazing lady. When she called me, I thought it was a great connection. She just wanted to give back. It’s how she felt after being spared.”
Outpouring of support
Our Daily Bread’s calls for help last month ensure continued operation of the local soup kitchen — for now. But the outpouring of support measures greater, giving Reimer the strength he needs to keep going.
“I have been a little overwhelmed, in a good way, by the outpouring of support, affection and love — and the desire that I see in people coming to me, wanting to have this service continue in Nelson,” Reimer said.
Our Daily Bread has seen a 50 per cent drop in annual donations from their usual mid-$60,000 range to just over $33,000. Fearing the hot lunch program offering meals for the poor, disenfranchised, elderly and homeless was at risk of closure, Reimer reached out to the public for support.
Some amazing stories have come out of this past month as people have approached the church leader with desires to give. In addition to the tale of Rita Chretien, several have moved Reimer — almost to tears. He shared one of those stories with the Star.
An older gentleman came in and said that a number of years ago, he used Our Daily Bread and credited it with “saving his life,” relayed Reimer.
Since then he has been able to get his life together and when this man heard about the threat of closure, he wanted to donate.
“He handed me a wad of bills, which turned out to be $500 dollars. I almost cried. For him, that $500 dollars was probably as much as $5000 for some of us — yet he wanted to help,” said Reimer.
This moment resonates with Reimer because it’s “What we want to do,” he said.
“We want to help people move along, move forward. Every single person, at some time in his or her life, needs a hand,” he said. “I look around and say, wow, this is really important. Day to day you may not see it but all of a sudden, five years later someone walks into your office and says ‘you saved my life.’ That’s pretty cool.”
Donations coming into Our Daily Bread, including $1,000 worth of pennies and bottles brought into SHARE Nelson, will keep the kitchen operating until July, Reimer estimated.
“We’re just so incredibly blessed with how the community has responded. We’re out of the crisis for the moment,” he said. “But the sad part about it is that we’ll buy our food and pay our cook, for our lights and the money will be used up. It’s a continual thing. The nature of this business is that we don’t make money, we spend it.”
Further fund raising ideas or financial support can be directed through 1-888-761-3301, mailed to 812 Stanley Street, Nelson, V1L 1N7 or online at kootenaychristianfellowship.com