Salvation Army’s Beacon Bus needs replacing

New $100,000 vehicle will be retrofitted with a mobile kitchen for emergency response situations

Beacon Bus driver Robert Walker

The iconic Salvation Army Beacon Bus is in need of an upgrade.

The stalwart vehicle has been helping volunteers provide meals, clothing and compassion to emergency workers and community members for the past 15 years.

But the organization needs still needs to raise $50,000 to buy a replacement van and retrofit it a full kitchen by the end of the year.

“The loss of services provided by the Beacon Bus would create a significant gap in our local emergency management system,” said Sara Walsh, deputy emergency coordinator with Victoria Emergency Management.

In addition to assisting fire, police and search and rescue crews with emergency response, the Beacon Bus provides hot meals and community and street outreach throughout Greater Victoria.

It is stocked at all times with food, clothing, blankets and other necessary items enabling it to be on call 24/7.

Each Friday, the Beacon Bus feeds between 30 and 60 people in front of the Blanshard Community Centre and hands out donated groceries to in-need families.

“There’s a lot of emotional stories that come when we do respond to emergencies,” said Kyla Ferns, special projects officer.

One of the most heartbreaking moments for driver Ken Humble came when he and the Beacon Bus were deployed to Kelowna during the 2003 forest fires that devastated the region.

“This little girl that couldn’t have been any taller than the wheels was just balling her eyes out and I asked her what was wrong. She pointed up the hill and said, ‘All my toys and clothes are in my house and it’s gone.’ So I gave her a teddy bear and she wiped her tears with it,” he recalled.

Ronald Walker has been driving the Beacon Bus since retiring two years ago, and remembers a long search and rescue mission in Sooke where he took the time to comfort the family of the missing man after feeding the search team.

“It’s just that contact you make with people that really matters,” Walker said.

Earlier this week, an anonymous donor came forward with $50,000 towards the new vehicle.

“We’re extremely grateful for it,” she said. “We’re not there yet, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

To donate to the campaign, call the Victoria Salvation Army at 250-386-3366.

dpalmer@vicnews.com