Photo by Brennan Hinchsliff

Photo by Brennan Hinchsliff

Drew McLachlan
The Navigator

The 7-10 Club, which operates out of downtown Nanaimo, provides clothing, bag lunches, and over 80,000 cooked meals every year. Founded in 1985, the organization was aptly named after its own morning hours of operation. Gordon Fuller has served the 7-10 Club as a chairperson since 2004. 

The Navigator: When did you first get involved with the 7-10 Club?

Gordon Fuller: I first got involved with the club around 2000 while I was running an emergency shelter in Nanaimo. I gave a lot of the donations I got at the shelter to the 7-10 Club. Around 2004, I was approached and asked to sit on the board.

N: What do you do at the 7-10 Club?

GF: Most non-profit organizations have executive directors, which can cost a fair chunk of change. The 7-10 Club has a working board, so it’s up to the chair to take on the same responsibilities. It’s an unpaid position, but the organization is one I love. It does great good in the community, so I don’t have a problem with not getting paid for my work.

N: Is the 7-10 Club affiliated with any other organization or religious group?

GF: No, it’s totally secular. When it first started in 1985, it was founded by members of different faith-based groups, and over the years we’ve had volunteers from various faith-based groups, but we don’t espouse any one particular faith.

N: How many people use the services?

GF: It varies depending on the time of month. A large amount of our clients are on income assistance. We also have some students from VIU come in, families, and a minority of homeless. After income assistance day, numbers tend to drop to around 80-100, and gradually they will build up in the next week or so up to 200 and sometimes more coming through in a three hour period.

N: Do you think there’s a stigma for non-homeless people using food assistance?

GF: There can be a stigma. A lot of people refer to the 7-10 Club as a soup kitchen, and when you say soup kitchen, it definitely has a stigma to it. I like to refer to the club as a community meal program, serving anybody in the community, and anybody else who wants to come in and have a bowl of soup or some porridge or take a bag lunch to work, or just get to know people in the community.

N: I was taking a look at your website, and it says that between 2010 and 2012, the number of meals served per year changed from 60,000 to 80,000…

GF: Yeah, but the website hasn’t been updated and we’re closer to 85 or 90,000 meals served now. Our numbers haven’t been declining—they creep higher and higher over the years and never seem to drop.

N: Why do you think that is?

GF: The economy. It’s a big factor in a place like the 7-10 Club, not just in the number of people we see, but in the number of donations we receive as well. In the last few years, our donations from individuals, which usually account for 37 per cent of our revenue, have dropped significantly. Overall, our donations have dropped by about 25 per cent. The people who would donate to us are finding it harder to make their own ends meet, so they donate less to the community. I don’t imagine that this is the only organization that it affects, but the economy certainly plays a huge part.

N: Why do you think it’s important for a charity to be organized?

GF: I kind of laugh at that question, because we’re somewhat haphazard when it comes to being organized. There’s a lot of stuff we want to do, but a lot of stuff we can’t do, and in part that’s hampered by not having an executive director. We’ve chosen to keep our staffing levels to a minimum so that most of the donations go towards feeding people in the community and keeping a roof over our heads. We could be far more organized if we wanted to hire an executive director, but most executive directors are paid fairly well, and they would have to raise the money, do the proposals, and write the grants, which I currently do for nothing, and a lot of that would go towards paying themselves, so that hampers our organization to a degree.

N: For you, what is the most rewarding part of working for the 7-10 Club?

GF: I like taking a hands-on approach that allows me to work with people. So not only do I do the mundane stuff—writing grants, writing proposals—but I also know a large number of people who come in and use the 7-10 Club. I’ve worked with the homeless community for about 15 years now, so I’ve gotten to know the people. There are some extremely intelligent people, and some people hit hard times—you can’t judge people, and that’s what I love about what I do. I’ve been there, I’ve done that. For a quarter of a century, I used and abused, and avoided people, essentially wanting to be a social outcast. For the past 20 years, I’ve totally flipped that to where I’m now taking those experiences and hoping they’ll benefit those I’m working for by building better communities.

N: How can students get involved?

GF: Right now, we actually have four nursing students who are doing a kind-of practicum and helping out at the 7-10 Club. Our services are 7-10am, five days a week. If anybody wants to volunteer, all they need to do is contact us and we will make it work for them as well as us.