It’s 11 o’clock and everyone is busy — and a bit nervous. Will anyone show up?
Friday, Oct. 21 was Day One of a special project in the Parish of St. Andrews — a lunch, by donation only, to which everyone was invited.
By 11:30, the start time, there is a small lineup. The Ven. John Matheson, rector, addresses those gathered, gives a brief overview of the project and asks the blessing. And the people keep coming for the next two hours.
Some choose the hamburger soup, some the fish chowder. Some take their lunch with them, while others sit down and do something perhaps they haven’t done in awhile — visit with friends and neighbours.
CHCO Television, the local community station, was on hand to record the event. The mayor and deputy mayor, parish people and others popped in for the meal.
“I am Anglican,” said Heather Richmond. “My husband, George, doesn’t get out a lot. It’s a nice social opportunity for him to chat.”
“I usually come if something’s going on,” said Steve Millikin.
Erich Raab enjoyed sharing his lunch time with a half-dozen others as the conversation flowed.
“I’m active in the church as the bell ringer, and I’m also active in the community,” he said.
SHIRETOWN COMMUNITY SERVICES
The organization behind this lunch is Shiretown Community Services Inc., and behind it is the parish.
“Shiretown Community Services is the daughter of the parish,” said John, adding the parish founded the organization as a way to procure government funding not available to churches.
It was largely inactive for years, but almost a year ago, it began a program of food preparation.
“We were training five people who have barriers to employment,” said John.
They learned under local retired restaurateur Helen Ann Smith. Through the spring, the group prepared lunches, packaging them for sale and pick up.
With the summer over, they’ve regrouped to begin Phase II — weekly in-person lunches, all in an effort to gain in-demand skills and provide a lunch to those who want and/or need it. (It's working: one of the group found a job.)
There is a basket for donations, but no one pays much attention to it. They’re just happy to see people lining up to eat.
“This time around, if you don’t have money, you can still eat,” said Linda Walsh, the parish’s on-the-ground coordinator.
And what happens if the donations don’t cover the costs of paying the workers and buying the food ingredients?
“The Lord will provide,” said Linda. “We had some money in the bank to start. If we need to be actively asking for donations, we’ll ask, but we’re confident.”
She hopes to get the word out to high school and community college students, older people — anyone who could benefit from having lunch, with no strings attached.
There are plenty of people who live by themselves, don’t have the skills or means to cook a meal, or find making a meal for one a lot of hassle, said Linda.
“What I see here today is people enjoying themselves,” she said.
“The history of this hall is that we feed people — any occasion to eat. Then everything came to a grinding halt,” she said.
Now with pandemic protocols lifted, the parish was eager to get back in the hall.
“This is the third time I’ve been here this week,” said Mayor Brad Henderson. “It’s a common gathering place. I think it’s wonderful what the parish is using it for.”
He’s thrilled to see a community project tick so many boxes: an inflation-buster for those with limited income; life skills for workers; a chance to gather and catch up on community news.
“The recipes are in my head,” said Helen Ann, adding soon she’ll give her workers some choices of what soups they’d like to cook.
Thursdays are prep days, and Fridays are a time to set up the space for sit-down dining and demonstrate their hosting skills as they serve the meal.
Helping out was Kim Lankisch, mother of Isaac, one of the workers.
“I’m keeping an eye on him, helping him focus,” she said. “Autistic people need routine and this is routine. The program gives him a purpose and focus. When he’s here he enjoys it. He does a good job, they say.”
Georgie’s mom, Nancy Armstrong, came for lunch and to check on her daughter.
“I like it. I like doing the buns,” said Georgie, whose hosting role was doling out buns and butter.
“It’s good for her. She loves to come,” said Nancy.
As the crowd thins, Helen Ann has a chance to assess the lunch’s success.
“I think it went well. They did a good job serving. There’s more interaction this way,” she said.
“They’ve pretty much mastered prep. We brought in some new equipment and they’re doing well on that. The big one now is the social skills, the proper etiquette.”
With about 50 guests through, the parish was happy with the first turnout. They hope to continue through until March, with plans to make the project permanent.
Shiretown Community Services has two areas of interest: helping those with barriers to employment; and housing.
With the entire country seemingly suffering a housing shortage, the parish is in the discussion phase of partnering with other community groups to develop affordable housing, focusing largely on single women, a mainstay of the summer employment group, who cannot afford an apartment of their own.
1. Servers included Alexandra Crighton on hamburger soup, Georgie Armstrong on buns, and Julian Rigby on fish chowder.
2. The Ven. John Matheson made sure to chat with all the diners to make them feel welcome.
3. In the kitchen, with cook and leader Helen Ann Smith and Isaac Lankisch.
4. Linda Walsh and John finally get a break to have some lunch.