Advocate writer given soup, bread, cookie dinner in APCH social experiment

By Joli Scheidler-Benns

Advocate writer given soup, bread, cookie dinner in APCH social experiment

A small bowl of soup. A piece of white bread. A single cookie. These were the three food items given to us recently for our dinner. As we stared down at them, just a few tables away at a long, more lavishly decorated table, the people there were being served pork roast dinners. The Lindsay Advocate was invited to the 2018 Homeless Awareness Dinner known as “An Experiential Dining Event,” held at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Lindsay. It was put on by A Place Called Home, Lindsay’s homeless shelter.

The social experiment involved in this dining experience was exceptional. Those invited were divided into three categories. The ‘safety zone’ participants represented those from our community who do not have any food insecurity issues. They typically have savings, plenty of money to pay their bills, and have access to disposable income for extras such as vacations and special household purchases.

The Zones

The ‘warning zone’ participants represented those from our community who are considered ‘at risk.’ These people get by month by month meeting their basic needs. Should an emergency arise, such as illness, job loss, car breakdowns, or other out of the norm bills, though, they are in trouble. They typically have stress and worry over their precarious situation and sacrifice eating healthy items for food that is cheap.

The ‘danger zone’ participants, where we sat, included people from our community that pay 50 per cent of their income toward rent and includes approximately 25 per cent of our local population. They are usually near homeless or homeless, live paycheque to paycheque, and find it impossible to meet their personal needs or their family’s needs. Sickness such as colds or having the flu are common among this group, as well as anxiety and depression.

The safety zone participants were fed first. They received special treatment and special china to eat from. They were given juice and salad to start their meal. They were also allowed to have coffee, tea or water. Next they were brought a wonderful pork roast dinner with all the trimmings, fresh vegetables, and dessert. Their seating was designed to look at those less fortunate who were finally fed.

The warning zone participants received spaghetti (with no meat) and salad with canned fruit cocktail for desert and options for tea, coffee, or water.

We in the danger zone were allowed to have a bowl of soup (typical to a soup kitchen experience), a white bun and a single cookie. Although the soup was delicious, it was not enough food for a dinner. We were also allowed coffee, tea or water.


I went around to each section and asked them about their dining experience. The safety zone participants admitted to feeling a bit guilty — but not guilty enough to share. The warning zone participants said that their meal was fine and they were full, but they wouldn’t want it again tomorrow. The danger zone participants felt jealousy toward the other groups. People began discussing these messages and it became a wonderful social experiment representing the various members of our community and how they would feel each day when they sat down to eat dinner.

Local historian and Advocate columnist, Ian McKechnie, spoke on ways that the community came together in 1932 to make sure that even the transients were fed and cared for over the winter through a grassroots-led initiative called the Citizen’s Relief Association.

In the end, we were all given a pork dinner, too, if we wanted one. The meal ended with all of us able to have cake and ice cream, something that wouldn’t have happened if we were truly homeless or near homeless.

A Place Called Home fills a dire need in our community. By providing shelter, food and safety to 19 people nearly each day they are meeting Maslow’s basic needs for some. But with the cancellation of the Ontario Basic Income Pilot and a very low occupancy rate for affordable housing in our community, they can’t meet the growing demand for accommodation.

Eating a healthy dinner is something many of us take for granted. Scraping leftover scraps of food from our plate in to the trash is considered normal. Being reminded that there are fellow community members who don’t get enough food on their plates in the first place is heart-breaking.

Staring at my empty bowl of soup was eye opening for me and I was anxious that my daughter had enough to eat, before we realized that more food was coming in what, in the end, was simply an experiment after all. I am sure this is a common feeling for parents who struggle to feed their children enough food, let alone healthy food.

We need to find more ways to come together as a community to offer more and to do more. The winter is coming — this will be tragic for some — those who will now worry about affording to pay for heat along with growing food prices and are already struggling.

In the meantime, let’s give what we can to A Place Called Home or our local food bank to reach those in the most need. What more can we do though for our fellow community members? Our social structures need to improve. The Citizen’s Relief Association was created during a time of need and our community members took action to help. What actions can more of us take now to help those who may be staring at an empty bowl?


  1. Diane Anderson Campbell says:

    The very first dinner of this kind for APCH at St. Andrew’s many years ago was by invitation only to local dignitaries and politicians at no cost. Each guest “picked” there lot in life from a draw box. Many husband’s and wives were separated in their seating and unlike this recent evening, we sent some home hungry to truly feel the experience and to generate more discussion with their partners who left dinner with full bellies!! No one truly ever knows what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes and any twist of fate could land us all in the same circumstance. Thanks for keeping awareness and advocacy of this issue of prime importance in the community.

  2. Joan Abernethy says:

    Of course, if you are truly homeless, living on the street with no shelter, you have no means to heat even a small bowl of soup. You have no means to wash or do laundry. You have no toilet.

    When I worked for Public Health in Hamilton, where homelessness was rampant durin the 1990s, the community built public facilities with toilets, bathtubs, washers and dryers.

    Some low-cost rooms had locks and a tiny fridge in addition to a bed.

    It is amazing how adaptable we are. Give us safe shelter we can afford and the freedom to manage our own means, and we make our way.

  3. Robert Polan says:

    Werner Hans Erhard is an American author and lecturer known for founding “est”, which operated from 1971 to 1984. He has written and lectured widely on critical thinking, transformational models and applications, integrity, performance, leadership and individual and organizational transformation.

    In 1977 Erhard, with the support of John Denver, Robert W. Fuller and others, founded The Hunger Project, an NGO (non-governmental organization) accredited by the United Nations in which more than 4 million people have participated in establishing the end of hunger as “an idea whose time has come”.

    I’m proud to say I was an active member at the time and recall the bases of our belief. We postulated that hunger could be cured globally at the cost of some 4 billion dollars, as was indicated by a study commissioned by the Nixon government. All that was lacking was the political will to make this a priority. If enough people knew what real hunger was, where it was, and how many people died as a result daily, we would surely gather the collective will to bring it to an end.

    As Johnson put it in his 1964 State of the Union address announcing the effort, “Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.”

    In 1971 President Richard Nixon declared his war on drugs, not poverty. Enforcing the war on drugs costs the US more than $51 billion each year, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.

    I wonder what would have happened had this money been directed at ending world hunger.

  4. Joan Abernethy says:

    Robert, your thesis assumes good will among all humankind. I think it may be an erroneous assumption.

  5. Suzanne says:

    What a great idea. It really does help to live in someone else’s shoes even for one meal! I believe that class discrimination is very real here in Lindsay on both sides which is especially unfortunate for children. So wonderful to see initiative in breaking down these barriers.

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