For 16 years Reverend Linda Park has ministered at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Lindsay, and she vividly remembers the vandalism and break and enters in the early days. They happened at the downtown church all too often.
Then the church started running their Sunday supper program – and there hasn’t been a single incident since then.
Park finds that more than coincidental.
“The people have taken ownership of this church,” she tells The Lindsay Advocate.
“We now have people come to our supper – even if most don’t attend the Sunday church service – and declare that it’s ‘their church,’ and I think that’s wonderful,” she says.
Every second and fourth Sunday of the month the church serves a three-course meal for anybody who needs one.
It’s all paid for by the congregation. There are three rotating teams, with over 40 volunteers involved, including three to four cooks. Each Sunday it operates they serve about 45 to 75 people, including families.
“We have whole families come out now,” says Park.
“We had to increase our number of high chairs because of the number of kids. We also installed a change table,” she says.
Park says most are young people, with a number of seniors.
Donna Chatland is the administrator of the Sunday supper and has been for over 15 years. She says the number of people needing the program has increased as much as 20 per cent over the years she has been involved.
Aside from the Sunday supper program, Chatland is also the administrator for St. Andrew’s community soup kitchen, which runs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11:30 am to 1 pm, from September through June. That programs runs with over 50 volunteers and seven cooks, serving anywhere from 25-40 people each day it runs.
The soup kitchen program runs exclusively on community donations and the only means test to qualify is that people can’t show up if they have been drinking or doing drugs.
As well, other community churches are involved in helping St. Andrew’s. These are: Fairview Baptist, St. Mary’s Catholic, Cambridge St. United, and the Christian Reformed Church.
Reverend Park says it’s “one of the ways that we’ve opened our doors.”
“I think, as minister, we should always be looking for ways we can make a difference in the community.”
Someone once said something to the reverend that has stayed with her.
“If you closed your doors tomorrow,” the person asked, “would anyone know your church is gone?”
“That had a big impact on me. We want to make a difference,” the reverend says.
Park says not everyone in the larger community may be interested in spiritual fulfillment at this moment in their lives, “but they may be interested in a warm meal.”
Dan Miller, a former high school geography teacher at both I.E. Weldon Secondary and LCVI, is one of the cooks for Sunday supper who has been helping to provide those warm meals.
He’s been helping out for about 18 months now, cooking for ‘team 3’ every six weeks.
He has also been working at the Monday soup kitchen since he retired three years ago.
“I took on the task as a result of need,” says Miller.
“I have a number of good friends at St. Andrews and due to home entertaining I apparently have gained a reputation as a decent cook,” Miller says.
When they needed someone to take over due to some people having to step down, Miller volunteered.
“I find it fulfilling in that it is a simple, yet necessary way to give back to the community,” he says.
Miller says he gets a chance to interact with a number of the people who receive the Sunday supper or at soup kitchen days.
“Generally, it is usually a very positive response and keeps me coming back,” he says.
While some have gone beyond the free meals to attending some church services at St. Andrew’s, Park says it’s enough that so many people want to help out and that there is a need to fill.
“It’s another way we can reach out and we’re happy to do it.”
Basic Income Pilot
Park was very happy that Lindsay was chosen as the key site for Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot.
“They couldn’t have chosen a better community. Lindsay is in desperate need,” she says.
The reverend points out the cost of living has increased and there are “a lot of young families without meaningful employment.”
“It’s our hope this program will make a real difference for a lot of people in town.”
In the meantime, St. Andrew’s and its community partners are doing what they can in that spirit of community.