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Building people up one meal at a time

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Althea Guiboche is stirring a few gallons of peach juice when the man first approaches her at the corner of Dufferin and Main.

"We’re not ready yet," Guiboche tells him.

But the man hasn’t come for juice, nor has he come for the bannock, soup or fruit that a small trio of volunteers is helping unload from her van. Instead, he offers out his hand to give hers a firm shake.

"You’re a superhuman," he says.

Indeed, for the hundreds of faithful hungry who line up at the intersection each Thursday afternoon, and the many who dropped by with food donations last week, Guiboche undoubtedly is.

The North End resident has been helping feed the hungry with her Got Bannock? campaign since late January, handing out freshly made bannock, piping hot soups, fruits, veggies, and, last week, grilled hot dogs.

"I just take what I can get and distribute as much as I can," says Guiboche, 39, as one friend dropped by with a personal gift and a box of bananas, while another friend, this one a City of Winnipeg employee, dropped off boxes of blueberries and cookies moments later.

For men like Richard Mathews, Guiboche’s food stand is likely the only meal he’ll eat that day.
Mathews admits that alcoholism fuels his need to panhandle for beer, and that he finds shelter usually at the Main Street Project, and, if not, a bus shack. It’s common to go for two-day stretches without food, he said.

"Everybody who shows up here is hungry with nowhere to go," says Mathews, 45.

That fuels Guiboche’s philosophy — young, old, aboriginal, white, Asian, disabled or not, those who are hungry can go through the line as many times as they need.

"Some people haven’t eaten for five days," she said.

"When they tell us that, it’s ‘Eat as much as you can then.’"

That mantra has stayed the same since Guiboche first met Mathews in a gas station parking lot one cold January night last winter. Mathews and a pal were looking for spare change. Guiboche was putting the last $14 to her name in her gas tank.

When they asked for food instead, Guiboche handed Mathews and his friend some fresh bannock and a couple cans of soup she had in her backseat she was planning to deliver to friends and family.

"I didn’t have any hats or mitts, but I started carrying around those too," Guiboche quips, adding that attending an Idle No More rally at the legislature a few days later helped inspire her into further action.

"I went home and said, ‘That’s it. I got to do something. I can’t keep telling these people I have no money for them."

It’s all because Guiboche can relate to being homeless. Before moving to Winnipeg in 2012, she bounced around being homeless in northern Manitoba, with three young children in her care.

Moving to Winnipeg has been a slow process of lifting herself out of the isolation and depression that comes with being homeless, Guiboche said, though there have been some roadblocks including a slum landlord she was able to move away from, and the provincial health department ordering her to stop serving soup in spring, allowing her to partner with local group Chili From the Heart.

Though she admits she still has her struggles, the Got Bannock? campaign provides a sense of purpose for Guiboche, and a way to try to connect with her people to restore aboriginal traditions.

"Everyone had a role and responsibility to the survival of the village," she says.

"There’s a time to play and a time for chores. I’m using this bannock to remind people of the powerful village we once were."

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