ST JOSEPH’S HOSPITALITY CENTRE FEEDS THOSE IN NEED
In spite of the opinion of many Londoners that we all live in a well off community, too many of our people live below the poverty line trying to subsist on soup kitchens and food banks.
Take a drive on Dundas Street in London East and drop into the St Joseph’s Hospitality Centre.
This year our pear tree has a large abundance of fruit that my wife and I could not eat. Every morning we would collect 10 gallon pails and drive to the St Joseph’s to provide fresh fruit to the diners.
Bill Payne, 519-432-0660, who is the co-ordinator of the Centre graciously agreed to teach me the history and aims of the program. The primary funding and guidance comes from the Sister’s of St Joseph who have embraced the project for 30 years. 120 volunteers graciously give of their time to feed 350 guests a day, Monday to Friday.
We were just in time for a delicious breakfast of sausages and pancakes smothered in maple syrup, 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 and treated as special invited guests.
It is sad that for over two decades that little has changed in London East where I grew up. When you live on the strip "East of Adelaide" there are no Richmond Row trendy shops or fancy expensive restaurants to visit. The residents quietly try and make do and hope for a better to-morrow that probably will never arrive.
One can have breakfast for 50 cents and a full nutritious lunch 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 money. The patrons are welcome to take home bags of fruit and bread to help tide them over until their next meal.
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 a few of the dinners. 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 earning 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 prepay 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".
St Joseph’s is nurtured by the sense of commitment and giving by the volunteers who graciously give of their time to help.
Elizabeth has volunteered every Friday for the past five years 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. Like Emily many university/college students are volunteering their spare time to lend a helping hand.
The vast majority of the food is donated by local food stores. Bruno and Christina from International Bakery donate their delicious surplus of bread to help feed the hungry.
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"
Take a moment out of your busy day to spend some time at the Centre and learn how the other half of Londoners live.