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Nanaimo restaurant stops free soup program for homeless after safety concerns

(Gabriel’s Cafe/Facebook) (Gabriel’s Cafe/Facebook)

A cafe in downtown Nanaimo, B.C., will no longer be offering its "Soup Token" program, which helps feed the homeless, due to growing safety concerns for staff.

Gabriel’s Cafe on Commercial Street will instead donate to the Wisteria Community Association.

Cafe owners Gemma and Gabe Martin began the Soup Token program in February 2016 as a way to give back to the community and help the less fortunate.

People were given a token after they donated $5.50 (later reduced to $4.50). That person could then give the token to anyone in need who could come into the restaurant and exchange it for a bowl of soup.

However, the owners say concern over safety for their staff has risen recently.

"The safety of our staff is our number one concern," said the Martins in a release Wednesday.

The staff have had to deal with situations like people falling asleep at tables or locking themselves in the bathroom, owners say.

"We have been understanding when that happens and willing to deal with that," they added.

However, they made their final decision to no longer offer the program after receiving an email from an employee. The email stated that someone had come into the cafe with a pair of knives with blood on them, then put the knives on a table and asked for a bowl of soup.

The owners add that between Oct. 1, 2022 and Jan. 15, 2023, Gabriel’s Cafe gave out 718 bowls of soup even though just 156 tokens were purchased during that time period.

"The disproportionate number of soups provided versus tokens sold highlights the need for access to free meals," said Gemma Martin.

Moving forward, the cafe will make donations to Wisteria Community Association’s Stone Soup Program and customers will be able to donate directly to that soup program when visiting the cafe.

The owners say they would like to see greater action from local government on food security, and local businesses need to pressure the municipality to take positive, urgent action to help their neighbours in need. Top Stories

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