Outside it was cold, damp and foggy. Inside it was warm, bright and cheerful.
As I sat down, Larry leaned over and in a low voice said, “The rice is sticky but the rest of the meal is good.”
I looked down at my plate. One slice of cooked ham, spoonfuls of rice, peas and carrots. I chose to skip the mixed greens salad.
Across the table, Carlos added, “And the dessert is always great here.”
Lyle agreed, but said he wasn’t here just for the food. He comes because of the companionship.
Mary Anne stopped knitting the toque that she planned to donate to someone less fortunate than herself. “Crochet,” she corrected me.
Carrie, a woman of few words, slowly announced, “The people here are nice.” I wasn’t sure if she meant the 60 or so souls who sat down with us at tables in the Great Hall at St. Christopher's Anglican Church, or the half dozen volunteers who prepared
and served us our meal.
For those in the know, 662 Guelph Line is the place to be on Tuesdays from 6 to 6:45 p.m. for a hot meal and a chance to connect with others from across the city. Sure, one could go further down the road and have their choice of lobster, roasted chicken or a $40 steak but the meal we sat down to enjoy was free, thanks to the congregation, volunteers and generous donors at St. Christopher’s Anglican Church through their Open Doors program.
Earlier in the day I spoke with Christina Mulder, Director of Programs and Partnerships for Open Doors at St. Christopher’s. “Food is the connector,” Mulder explained.
“Open Doors is the outreach ministry of the parish," she said. "We offer food, clothing, dinner on Tuesdays and lunch on Thursdays to anyone who wishes to
join us or is in need.”
Mulder told me that the church started handing out donated clothing some 20 years ago and quickly realized that the need for food and fellowship was of growing concern in the community. Volunteers began collecting food as well as clothing and eventually placed an old school portable on the property to be used as a distribution centre and a point of contact. This became the Community Market, set up more like a store than a typical food bank to ensure more dignity for the clientele.
St. Christopher’s partners with the Burlington Food Bank and Food for Life to help keep the shelves stocked.
The Market operates Tuesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 12 noon and provides fresh, frozen and nutritious dry goods with the additional support of hygiene products and diapers. No proof of need is required.
In the warmer months, produce from the community garden at the rear of the church supplements the dry goods and helps supply fresh vegetables for the community meals. Volunteers from the Halton Environmental Network assist with the planning and maintenance of the garden.
“We’re trying to rebuild our pre-pandemic partnerships,” Mulder noted. “The Canadian Mental Health Association is one that we are hoping to connect with again. And the Centre for Skills Development is working on a social enterprise action plan with us.”
In addition to Open Doors, St. Christopher’s offers other programs for the general public: "Fit For Service" is a one-hour exercise session with a registered fitness instructor; once a week, a bridge group meets at the church; older adults are invited to attend a Seniors Afternoon Social; "Positive Space" is a monthly gathering of parents of LGBTQ+ youth for a positive space and supportive conversation; and a frequent conversation group, "Pondering the Imponderable", discusses various topics.
On Feb. 25, Open Doors hosts Coldest Night of the Year, a walkathon to raise funds for local charities serving people experiencing hurt, hunger and homelessness.
Clothing donations may be dropped off at the main (north) doors of the church on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. To learn more about St. Christopher's outreach programs or how to donate, visit them at stcb.ca or call the office at 905-634-1809.