ST JOSEPH’S HOSPITALITY CENTRE FEEDS THOSE IN NEED
Our Bartlett pear trees this year provided a bountiful harvest that were far too many for us to eat. It was a shame to throw them away: Ella and I decided to give them to those who may not have had the opportunity to be able to afford them at the local food markets.
I called Bill Payne who has been the co-ordinator of the St. Joseph’s Hospitality Centre, in London East. “It is a “soup kitchen” that is sponsored by the Sisters of St Joseph providing meals and friendship to the many who are economically and socially disadvantaged.”
We were just in time for a delicious breakfast of bacon and eggs, toast, fruit, steamy cups of hot chocolate and fresh fruit. There was an eclectic group of dinners made up of seniors, middle aged and enfants who patiently awaited to be served. There were no long line ups with everyone seated being treated as special invited guests.
Bill sat down in the dining room with me and gave a brief explanation along with a history of the Center. The primary funding and guidance comes from the Sister’s of St Joseph who have embraced the project for 28 years, 120 volunteers graciously give of their time to prepare and feed 300 patrons a day Monday to Friday.
One can have breakfast from 9.30-11. for fifty cents and a full nutritious lunch (12-2.) costs $1.00. Meals can be prepaid monthly for only $25.00 which covers 44 visits.
Bill emphasized that no one is turned away at the door because of the lack of funds. The patrons are welcome to take home bags of fruit and bread to help tide them over until their next meal.
Lunch to-day was a delicious array of roast beef sandwiches/potatoes, vegetables fruit and my favourite desert, chocolate cake, washed down with steamy cups of tea and coffee.
Everyone regardless of faith is welcome to come and break bread with their fellow Londoners. It is a time to socialize and get out of the cold and to enjoy the warmth of the Center. There are no mandatory prayers to give thanks.
I had the chance to interview and get to know a few of the guests. Sam was a clean shaven nicely dressed middle aged man from Montreal who had fallen on hard times; he recently lost his job in retail sales.
Liz was a very slim 23 old women who had only a paper thin vest to help ward off the cold morning. She told me that: “she lives in the Salvation Army, Centre of Hope Shelter and comes to St Joseph’s only when she is hungry.” She has lived on her own since the age of thirteen after escaping from abusive group/ foster homes. She was very proud that she is now attending Wheable Secondary School in the evenings. She is working on receiving her high school diploma that can help her find a good paying job. Liz wants to be independent, with the opportunity to have her two young children returned to her.
Rita ,who is a senior citizen, uses her Canadian Government meager pension that helps her prepays her breakfasts and lunches. “She enjoys coming every day to meet with her new found friends and take home a loaf of bread to help supplement her supper.”
Everyone of the guests that I had the chance to chat with me told me of the sense of warmth and acceptance they were afforded when they came to dine.
St Joseph’s is nurtured by the sense of commitment and giving by the 120 volunteers who graciously give of their time to help.
Elizabeth has volunteered every Friday for the past 18 months after retiring from a career in nursing at the London Health Science Center. She felt: “it was her time to give back to the community and pay it forward.”She thoroughly loves connecting with the guests and volunteers. “Simply amazing” was her words to describe the generosity of Londoners.
Emily who is a fourth year student of King’s University College is enrolled in Social Justice/French studies, on her way to Law school, She had just finished her first morning serving breakfast to the guests. Emily hopes other university/college students will take the time to learn of the good works at the centre and volunteer their time.
There is a beautiful message in the handout expressing the philosophy of the Centre written by Joe Barth,
“When we dream alone,
It is only a dream,
When we dream together,
It can become a reality”