REGINA — It was a long summer for the members of the Madonna House Apostolate who staffed Regina’s Marian Centre soup kitchen. The building was closed in August for major structural repairs, and staff were dispersed across Canada, including to the mother house in Combermere, Ont.
Director Hugo Istaz remained behind until the middle of August, and then returned to his home country of Colombia. He came back to Regina toward the end of November to begin preparations to reopen the Marian Centre for mid-December.
Churches were contacted, donations of food and clothing came in, and on Dec. 11 at 10:00 a.m. staff member Charlie Cavanaugh unlocked the front door. Several of the regulars who come for the noon meal were waiting for the door to open, including three who come in the morning to socialize and play cribbage.
Bob Roy and Lino Palmarin, two of the regular Monday morning volunteers, were there to help get things back to normal. Roy usually mans the dishwasher and Palmarin helps wherever he is needed; on opening day, he was in the kitchen, up to his elbows in grease, dissecting a roasted turkey for the noon-day stew. Staff member Katie O’Donnell was already stirring the stew, which was steaming and bubbling in a vat on the stove.
Sixty men, most of them previous regulars, showed up for the noon hot meal. There was a lot of chatter among the men, volunteers, and staff as they caught up on their activities over the summer.
The Marian Centre serves men only. Women go to Visitation House, which is not really a soup kitchen, but provides lunches and other services for women in the city’s downtown. It was established and continues to be operated by the Regina archdiocese.
Istaz said the entire renovation project was estimated to be $400,000, but he expects it will reach about $450,000 when completed. Some of the extra costs resulted from the removal of asbestos, and some parging remains to be done on the foundation; this will be done when warm weather returns in the spring. The Archdiocese of Regina owns the building and signed the original contracts with PCL Construction and the structural engineering firm J.C. Kenyon, Inc. The archdiocese put up the $450,000 it cost, but it will be repaid.
“Two hundred thousand dollars has already been raised and donations are still coming in,” according to Istaz.
The repairs were extensive. The foundations extended 20 feet below grade, and new footings were poured. A waterproof membrane was attached to the foundation’s exterior and two new sump pumps were installed to deal with any water beneath the building. The new foundation allowed for the removal of some supporting steel beams from the interior basement, which in turn allowed two new rooms to be constructed.
“New windows and lighting made the basement much brighter,” said Istaz. The new walls built on the new foundation were painted, and that also helped to increase brightness.
Prior to closing, arrangements were made with Souls Harbour Mission, Carmichael Outreach and Westminster United Church to make sure sandwiches continued to be available for weekends. The other soup kitchen service organizations expanded their regular programs to accommodate the increased numbers that would flow to them from the Marian Centre’s closing. The centre regularly provides a hot noon meal during the week and sandwiches on weekends.