In September 1996, pastor Ron and Delphine Dame got together with a small group of people at the park with a 12 litre cauldron of soup. That was how Terrace’s famed Bread of Life soup kitchen that ran on Sundays at the All Nations Centre on Sparks St. came to be.
From there on, the humble gathering expanded and like the miracle of the five loaves and two fish that fed 5,000 on a mountain where Christ preached, went on to feed hundreds of thousands of people for over two decades.
The Dames ran the soup kitchen out of the basement of the Terrace Health Unit on Kalum St. before they moved into the iconic blue-roofed building on Sparks St. that longtime Terrace residents still remember as the ‘old carpenter’s hall.’
They rented the place from 2001 to 2008 before the B.C. headquarters of the Seventh Day Adventist Church bought the building for them.
The soups were always vegetarian since it was a healthy alternative and there were a lot of health concerns, and the food safety permits were less of a hassle with vegetarian options. It was a week-long process to pick up produce and have everything ready for distribution of freshly made soup by Sunday at 3 p.m.
When the soup kitchen started out there were three people who helped make the soups, over the years more people got involved, from the community and across borders. The soup kitchen ran with the support of 45-50 people as the years passed, said Delphine.
Terrace as a community was very supportive, in term of donations for keeping the project running. Community members and businesses supported them throughout the years. The Dames illustrated the massive support from the community through an incident in 2017 when the City of Terrace denied them a full tax exemption and they had look at options to raise over $3,500. After people heard about this, the business community met for lunch and passed around a hat for the All Nations Centre and raised around $4,000.
“We witnessed such miracles everyday, my faith has been strengthened so much,” said Delphine, while Ron added, “Everything in the soup kitchen was organized by God.”
But although he is a pastor, Ron never brought in religion to the soup kitchen. “We said grace, but there was no preaching or anything,” he said.
“My intention was never to get people to come to my church, my motive was just to love people,” said Ron.
After the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020, the soup kitchen froze its activities for a while. Around this time, Ron fell ill and had to be medevaced to Prince George. The Dames were preoccupied with Ron’s treatment and recuperation as the year passed.
As 2021 brought in the end of an era for the soup kitchen, it also created the possibility of another door opening. The Dames passed the reins to Gurjeet Parhar, who has many food-related activities and plans for the building moving forward.
Delphine said that people still keep asking them when they plan to reopen the soup kitchen. Because in many ways, it was more than just food – it had evolved into a subculture in itself. Sometimes young adults come up to Ron and Delphine on the streets and talk about their childhood and how they spent time at the All Nations Centre playing games with their friends on Sundays. The place was always bubbling with chatter, laughter, children and adults – all of whom came for the socialization. There were also many weddings, baptisms and Christmas parties held here.
The door was open to everyone. While it started with catering to people experiencing homelessness and low income families, there were also people who came in for the company and the culture.
“We’ve had people come in and say ‘I don’t need the food,’ and pay us money and spend time at the premises,” said Delphine.
Ron and Delphine met in Terrace where they lived as neighbours and soon went on to become a big blended family. Delphine was a psychiatric nurse and Ron was a steam engineer with Eurocan back in the early 80’s.
“Our children played together and I would often make dinner for all the kids and one day I asked their mother to join in as well,” said Ron about how the couple got together.
Later on, Ron received his calling and went on to become a pastor.
As time passed by, the couple said that they started asking themselves what more could be done to serve the people of the community out of the contentment of their hearts.
“We asked ourselves, ‘Is going to church all about it?’ And thought there’s surely more to being a Christian than showing up on just one day,” said Delphine.
Running the soup kitchen and getting involved in the lives of the many people who passed through the doors of their building seemed like the answer to their questions and prayers.
“I’ve done a lot of things in my life, but never have I found anything as fulfilling as the soup kitchen,” said Ron and added that ultimately it was all about God showing him how to love people and it strengthened his faith.
“The Lord just had this for us to do, it got bigger and bigger and we just watched it grow,” said Ron.
The building has been a comfort for many who sought refuge, shelter and company. Mostly, people came for the company, to escape isolation, loneliness and to have a sense of community. At instances, the building also doubled as a make-shift homeless shelter to help out the service agencies in town.
“We call it the All Nations Centre, but watching it truly become an all nations centre where all people from across races, denominations and nationalities have passed by or come as volunteers and staff and helped out – has been one thing that has been truly gratifying for us,” said Delphine.