Heart of Our City: Soup for the soul

Peggy Luckham-Okrainetz has been lending a helping hand to the Salvation Army for more than 15 years

When Peggy Luckham-Okrainetz first stepped into the Prince Rupert Salvation Army thrift store, she was just there to shop. What she didn’t know then, more than 15 years ago, was that she would find more than a good bargain.

“I’d just be in there — I meant to be shopping — but I’d start doing things and low and behold I was a volunteer there practically full-time,” Luckham-Okrainetz said.

She began by handing out donuts every morning. Then, when she needed a job, Luckham-Okrainetz asked Captain Nancy Sheils if they were hiring. Luck would have it that they were.

“Things happen for a reason,” she said. “Here I am, all these years later, and still willingly volunteering and encouraging others to do the same.”

READ MORE: A new husband-and-wife duo take the Salvation Army reins

Luckham-Okrainetz originally moved to Prince Rupert for love. Her then-husband was a long-time friend and had been living in the coastal city for more than 10 years. Luckham-Okrainetz and her two children moved not knowing many in the community. But one day, at the bank of all places, Luckham-Okrainetz saw a familiar face.

She called out the name of an old friend who she’d done a year-long chef’s training course with many years before. It was her, Eva. Both women screamed with excitement when they recognized each other.

“I was really so fond of her because she was so little, and she had never been away from home,” Luckham-Okrainetz said of their time training. “I was kind of like a big sister to her. I took her under my wing there and we encouraged each other to finish the course.”

And where had Eva, a Rupertite, worked ever since the course? The Salvation Army soup kitchen. Since their reunion, the two women have been working together.

“We have grown into mature, Christian women by now,” Luckham-Okrainetz said. She’s proud of her friend, who is the kitchen’s main chef.

Luckham-Okrainetz has high praise for the role the Salvation Army plays in people’s lives, including her own. Before moving to Prince Rupert, she wasn’t heavily involved in a church.

“Until I lost my whole family, I never really got it why people say ‘church family’,” Luckham-Okrainetz said. “Of course, over time I found out that I really love a lot of these people, even the ones I don’t like. I started really loving them, and now I have a church family there.”

She was only five years old when her brother passed away. At 13, her father drowned at sea. Then she lost another brother, followed by her mother and two sisters close together.

“One day, I was really missing all my family, and I said, ‘I wouldn’t mind if I was done’,” Luckham-Okrainetz said. “I wouldn’t mind going to heaven, was my idea, because I could see everybody.”

But Nancy Sheils had a different idea. She said, “I don’t think God’s finished with you yet. I think he’s got lots for you to do.”

READ MORE: Heart of Our City — The Captains depart after 15 years

That was a turning point for Luckham-Okrainetz. She threw herself into helping the Salvation Army in anyway she could, and found plenty to keep her busy.

“It’s just the most beautiful thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’m 60 years old this year, and I can honestly say this is the nicest job I’ve ever had, at the soup kitchen.”

Since Luckham-Okrainetz was diagnosed with MS, which impacts her fine motor skills, she’s no longer a cook. But that doesn’t keep her out of the kitchen.

“My biggest role is supporting them in any way I can,” she said. “I’ll vacuum the sanctuary, I will clean the toilets, I’ll take the garbage out. I’ll do anything.”

Besides her near-constant presence at the Salvation Army, Luckham-Okrainetz is known for her kind words. When the Sheils were captains of the Prince Rupert chapter, Luckham-Okrainetz was given ministry work to do.

“Captain Gary actually put me in a position there in the church. In the kitchen, he saw me talking to all the old guys one day, and he was just blown away by the way I was with them,” she said.

It’s what she’s loved about working and volunteering there, being able to offer encouragement (and some good food) to those in need.

“I’m just a kitchen helper,” she said humbly, “but I think I’m a powerful one.

“It’s incredible what a person gets out of volunteer work. The benefits I get are astronomical. I feel good, I feel needed and other people feel good. I know that I make other people feel good.”

Read more Heart of Our City profiles here.

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