By Tammy Schneider
Wes Larson had a vision of providing the community with a place of fellowship and warmth that would welcome anyone who needed a coffee, a light meal or companionship. His volunteer history included spending time in such shelters in Toronto, where the homeless could find shelter and the addicted could find sanctuary, and he wanted a similar service available in Kincardine. After moving to the area, Larson had discussed his ideas with long-time friend, and pastor of Bluewater Christian Fellowship, Chris Higginson. Higginson encouraged him to put a plan together to create such a drop-in centre at the church and make it happen. Because of the central location of the church (it is located at 746 Queen Street), it was the perfect spot that could be easily accessed by those who wanted to take advantage of its services. In June 2018, the starting point for The Bridge was a Monday drop-in and lunch from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The first lunch welcomed about six guests and as many volunteers, but as the word spread, so did attendance. The centre has seen as many as 40 people on a single day, but averages 25 to 30 each week. People stop in for a hot lunch that may include soup or chili, sandwiches and beverages and stay for the conversation, a game of cards or a board game. All the food is donated so there is no charge to the guests. “It’s been a humbling experience being able to be part of this,” said Larson. “It’s better than I thought it would be.” By late fall, Larson noticed that teens, too, could use a place to unwind, be themselves and enjoy some lunch. Just before the Christmas break in 2018, The Bridge welcomed youth from KDSS to stop in on Wednesdays between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. for a soda and pizza. As expected, the invitation was well received and the centre regularly serves 30 to 40 teens each week. The program will be on hiatus after the third week in June and resume when school starts in September. It’s not just the lunches that are bringing people together and building community. Larson arranged for full meals on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter so that people who didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy a celebratory meal with friends now had one to look forward to. While there was no charge for the meal, guests were expected to reserve their spot in advance and all seats for the get-together were full. The Bridge has also been hosting twice per month movie nights that include a family-friendly film and popcorn. Larson has more plans for the coming year, including a summer barbecue at the beach and possibly offsite trips to a local attraction or farm. He is also working towards adding a monthly Friday drop-in for adults that could include art therapy. When asked why the centre has been so successful, Larson is thoughtful. “It’s always been a tremendous need in the community,” he said. “A lot goes out to the volunteers. Without them it wouldn’t work. They love this passionately. The excitement, enjoyment and passion they bring for people is phenomenal.” Larson is also quick to point out that none of the success of the centre would have been possible without support and donations from the community. Sobeys has been a regular sponsor, as has Coca-Cola, while other individuals have made monetary donations in order to keep the doors open and the program running.