The recent announcement that Castlegar’s Old School Cafe will be closing has many up in arms, but the women who’ve put so much work into the place say they have barely been heard.
Liz Phillips and Deni Sutherland have worked tirelessly for years to keep the cafe running not only for the community but alternate program students who come to learn and feel accepted. A majority of students working at the cafe deal with some sort of issue such as anxiety.
After five years of serving downtown Castlegar, the Old School Cafe will close to the public come March 13. After that date, meals will continue to be prepared on location until a new place is found. (Kootenay Columbia schools superintendent Greg Luterbach explains the decision in a letter today on page 7.)
“We’re here until the end of June doing school meals and then we have to find another building,” said Phillips, who has been preparing meals for School District 20 for 22 years.
The district will look after finding a new place but the two women would like to be consulted after all the work they put into the cafe.
“I think I deserve a say in what’s going on,” Phillips said, “because I’ve done this for so long.”
In addition to the work required to run the restaurant, the cafe produces 200 meals a day for the entire district.
Asked if it was an issue of too much work for the kids, Phillips said that’s not quite it.
“The kids weren’t doing it all. The reason this program is shutting down is because we don’t have the students coming and doing it. We have a shortage of help and it just keeps getting busier.”
A few students have worked at the cafe since it opened five years ago and the two women said it will be a huge loss for them and any alternate children who will now miss out on the experience.
“We’ve had a lot of students come out of here with great success. They’ve gone on to other jobs and done just fine,” Phillips added.
“These children are alternate kids. They don’t show up for school a lot of the time. What are they going to do in their lifetime? They need something like this.”
“The whole thing here is it’s such a wonderful environment for them to be in. We teach them how to be an employee, how to work at a job properly,” Sutherland said.
Sutherland said the cafe is a safe environment for children. They don’t get fired or scolded for doing something wrong; rather they’re taught and nurtured.
“We build on it every day. Then one day they just blossom.”
Phillips and Sutherland said they had mixed feelings about the closure. On one hand, it was too much work to keep up, but on the other, they feel it could have been avoided.
“I’m torn. We worked very hard,” Phillips said. “We asked the district to find a solution to help us run.”
Phillips said they asked multiple times for help from work experience and other programs but nothing came of it.
Sutherland explained the cafe currently has five regular students and to keep operating with the business they see now would require at least 10 regulars.
“It’s just too much work for the two of us,” Sutherland said.
The women said they hardly ever get breaks.
However, they said the downsides shouldn’t detract from how much they care about the cafe or how it has been valued by those who eat there.
They said many people dine at the cafe daily who feel sorry that they’re going to lose this part of the community.
A petition to save the cafe can be found at Pharmasave and MP Alex Atamanenko’s office.