Lynne Doyle’s enthusiasm is infectious. Maybe not the best choice of words during a pandemic, but there really is no other way to describe this incredible woman and what she has brought to the table—The Table Soup Kitchen Foundation table that is!
When Lynne Doyle sat down to have a conversation with a friend at Seven Main Café seven years ago, she didn’t realize how much it would change her life. That friend was Barb Stronach and the conversation revolved around the fact that Doyle had retired, moved to Huntsville and was looking for something to do. “She asked me to help out at The Table Soup Kitchen Foundation,” Doyle said.
Prior to that conversation, Doyle had had little interaction with the people who rely upon the soup kitchen, although her life has not been without hardship.
Born in 1953 in Sault Ste. Marie, Doyle was the second born of five to parents who were wealthy, but mainly absent.
“My parents were workaholics,” Doyle remembers. “My parents were wealthy because they lived through the depression and so they never spent a dime.”
Owners of an appliance shop, they were the only store in town and it was a very lucrative business which required a lot of hours by Doyle’s parents. As she grew older, the responsibility of her younger siblings fell on her shoulders.
“They would come home and expected everything to be done at home, dinner ready, house cleaned,” she said.
When Doyle was 17 her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and her home responsibilities grew along with another form of abuse that she endured from her father. Doyle discovered decades later that she was not the only girl in the family to suffer the sins of her father and together she and her sister charged their father, which resulted in jail time for her father and estrangement from their other siblings.
That sister is Toni Scobie, one of Doyle’s biggest admirers. She outlined some of the violence and fear that the family lived through in Sault Ste Marie. “Our father was a well known businessman in SSM,” she wrote. “We lived in a nice home, big cars in the drive and in that time we were considered to be a very well-off family. But as like with anything, no one knows—or pretend to not know—what goes on behind closed doors. Our mother was diagnosed with MS while we were all very young, she suffered from depression and was unable to defend herself or her children. Our mother lived in constant fear of his violence. Lynne assumed the role of mother best she could but she was just a child herself.”
Scobie ran away from home at a young age to escape the violence at home and it took years before she confessed to Doyle why she ran.
Doyle said that in order for her to leave her home permanently, she had to get married, adding that in those days young woman didn’t leave the family home and abuse was swept under the rug and not recognized.
“My mother told me just before she died that she knew what he was doing,” she said. “In those days, women had no rights.”
Doyle was 18 when she met, married and divorced her first husband within the span of 10 months. “I did it to get out of the house,” she said.
Doyle was able to support herself at this time as she had embarked on her career with RBC, beginning as a teller.
“RBC paid for my education as long as I passed,” Doyle said. She got her BA all through night courses at University of Windsor and Western University. Doyle was transferred to London, Ontario in 1976 and her career with the bank took off.
In 1984, Doyle was selected to run a pilot project as one the first mobile banks. By 1993 Doyle was living in Etobicoke and her clients were high-end professionals needing to borrow money, with a minimum borrowing requirement of $300,000.
Doyle would work all hours and visit clients at their home at their convenience. “I remember going to one surgeon’s home at 11 p.m. because that is when he was available,” Doyle said. “I loved that job.”
Doyle was then in her second marriage, to Rick Doyle, then vice president of Molson Brewers. His position required a lot of transfers around the country, including spending time in Newfoundland in 1988 when the couple adopted a son.
In 2001, Doyle’s husband had left Molson’s to begin his own company and the family transferred to London, Ontario. Previously, all their moves had been handled through Molson’s and a team would pack up and move the homes for the family.
However, the responsibility now fell to the family and Doyle packed up the house into 200 boxes during the the heat of the summer.
“No sooner had we got to London I realized something was wrong,” she said. “I was so sick one specialist thought it was a brain tumour.”
Doyle laughs when she recalls that when she was finally diagnosed with MS, she told the doctor, “thank goodness.”
The shocked doctor said that wasn’t the usual reaction he got when telling someone the diagnosis. “I said, ‘it’s MS, I know to to deal with it, I don’t know how to deal with a brain tumor.'”
Doyle had had an episode of MS when she was a teenager living in Sault Ste. Marie, but it was not diagnosed at that time. It went into remission until 2001 when they determined the high temperatures and fatigue of the move brought it out of remission, she said. Doyle was one of six patients in 2001 who were put on a trial drug that has kept her MS in remission to this day.
However, Doyle realized at that time she needed to retire from her job. “The first year in the pilot project I was lending 17 million dollars,” she said. “Seventeen years later I was lending 55 million dollars. And in the corporate world you have to keep producing, I was at the top of my game.”
During the summer season Doyle would spend her holidays camping in Algonquin Park with her son. In the summer of 2004, a client offered her use of his cottage on Raven Lake just south of Dorset. “I was sitting in that rented cottage and saw a for sale sign go up on the cottage next door and I loved the place so much, I bought it,” she said.
In 2008, Doyle’s life was turned upside down again when she left her husband and moved to Huntsville. Her plan was to sell the cottage and move back to Sault Ste. Marie, but she realized she would never be able to afford to purchase a cottage again. So she remained in Huntsville and has created a new life for herself.
It is the new life that Scobie said has so surprised and inspired her. “Lynne was so entrenched in the world of finance that people in struggle were invisible to her. Homelessness, poverty, drug use, all of that was on her radar but she would often say they make that choice,” Scobie said.
Doyle admits she was not very sympathetic to those less fortunate, but said with her career, she did not have any time to do anything but work.
Then, Scobie said, “something changed in Lynne and she became so devoted to assisting and advocating whenever and wherever possible.”
The beneficiaries of her eye opening are the community of Huntsville and The Table Soup Kitchen Foundation. “I am a bit obsessive when I take something on,” Doyle said.
Doyle now works six days a week at The Table Soup Kitchen and holds three titles: donations coordinator, kitchen coordinator and food rescue coordinator. But Doyle is not only a coordinator, she is the first to roll up her sleeves and work hard to make things happen. From cooking and serving, to driving to local grocery stores and to the city to collect food.
Through Doyle’s efforts, The Table Soup Kitchen Foundation is one of the top food banks in Ontario in terms of food collection. She has spearheaded efforts for the purchase of a walk-in freezer which allows the foundation to collect and store food. She has helped with the purchase of a glass-front fridge in the foundations store for clients or guests as Doyle refers to them.
Doyle has nothing but positive feelings about The Table Soup Kitchen Foundation and its volunteers and the sense of community that is there.
“Under normal circumstances there are 20 volunteers,” Doyle said. “We are now down to around 10 because people are worried and want to stay home.”
Being 67 and in what is considered a higher-risk group for COVID-19 does not worry Doyle; she wears a mask and gloves and changes her gloves every hour and washes with hand sanitizer. “We clean everything beyond belief,” she said.
Doyle said with the government emergency benefit payout, The Table Soup Kitchen has seen a bit of a decline in numbers, however, they are still seeing 120 families a week who come to the foundation to shop. Families are allowed to shop once a week, on either Tuesday, Friday or Saturday. In addition, on Monday and Thursdays Doyle and others cook up to 63 hot healthy take-out meals. Everything is set up outside with social distancing measures in place.
Scobie said that while she worries about Doyle working during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said when she expressed her fears to her Doyle replied, ‘If God wants me he will take me, but in the meantime I am going to help ensure people are fed.’
“It really makes you appreciate what you have,” Doyle said. “When I lived in Toronto I would shop like no tomorrow. Now I buy at the Salvation Army. I just don’t care for that stuff any more.”
Walking through The Table Soup Kitchen Foundation with Doyle, her pride in what she and the others have created and provide for the community is palpable. “No longer do I judge people,” Doyle said. “I act on compassion first and never judge. Someone might pull in with a Lexus or a Mercedes and take groceries, but we don’t know what happened to them. I never give it a second thought.”
While the food aspect of the foundation is currently secure, Doyle said there is always a financial need and donations are always welcome. And, she added, volunteers are always welcome. “It is easy, people can phone the food bank number, or go online to the website.”
While Doyle would never view herself as a hero, Scobie is very proud of her sister and what she has done and continues to do. “When the whole world is in crisis with COVID-19 there are so many heroes among us,” Scobie said. “If her story can inspire even one person, then I feel it is worth telling.”
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