From Regina to Halifax, Souls Harbour serves people next door

Community centre feeds 100 people a day

Michelle Porter (second from the left) has supper with clients at Soul’s Harbour. Photo: Alissa MacDougall

On Cunard Street there is a tall beige building with a red door that boasts a sign of a buoy and the words “Souls Harbour Rescue Mission.” Founded by Ken and Michelle Porter four years ago, Souls Harbour is a drop-in community centre that provides hot nutritious meals for people in need.

Inside the building, the space is open. Small tables are scattered around the large room with small centrepieces on each. Artwork and a white cross decorate the walls. The television is turned on to the news and the subtitles are running as well.

Off to the left is a door opening up into the yellow and blue kitchen where Michelle Porter is cooking chili and cornbread for Tuesday night’s supper. As of 6:30 p.m. there are six people here to eat, but a couple more will arrive for a bite later on.

Among the guests there is an older couple who sit together at one of the small tables. They speak excitedly and candidly about their plans for her to move in with him in at his apartment he found on Kijiji. As they chat, Michelle Porter comes around with a special treat that has been donated for tonight’s supper — shrimp pizza.

Originally, the Porters wanted to be foreign missionaries but were unsuccessful. “We realized there are people next door that need help,” says Michelle Porter.

The Porters started their missionary work in 2000 in Regina, Sask. by setting up a community centre of the same name. They grew the Souls Harbour in Regina to a yearly budget of $2.3 million before being challenged to do the same thing in the Maritimes.

“We got to start something from scratch and then also work in our passion, which is to help people and provide for the poor,” she says.

Souls Harbour in Halifax serves meals to about 100 people every day out of a household-size kitchen. They recently qualified for the final round of voting with insurance company Aviva for a grant of $50,000–$100,000 to expand its kitchen.

Porter said Souls Harbour entered the Aviva competition the day before it went into the second round of qualifying. “Somehow we clawed our way to the top and we became the number one in Canada for the qualifying round,” she said.

The next qualifying round will be Nov. 10 and the semifinals will be Dec. 1. A judging panel will then review all the finalists and announce a winner on Jan. 27.

Michelle Porter has an idea for what to do with the grant. She plans to commercialize the space by “outfitting it with proper commercial appliances versus the household size of everything we have trying to serve 100 people a day with a regular crockpot.”

The main demographics Souls Harbour serves are people who are low-income, homeless or  near homeless, as well as people in affordable housing. Students are also welcome to utilize the services provided by Souls Harbour. Last year Souls Harbour hosted a shoe drive.

“We made sure to advertise to the schools so that universities and colleges knew this is open to anyone,” Porter said.

Souls Harbour currently employs four full-time staff members, including a Red Seal chef, and one part-time staff member. It also has many volunteers, including students.

“I just love working with students because they’re fresh out of school,” she said.“They’re idealistic, but they don’t have any bad habits yet.”