The gospel urges us to love one another, but what do you do when some people are hard to love? You do what Jesus advocated: share food and drink, give away possessions, offer help and hope.
That’s what happens on non-holiday Monday mornings from September until May at Cathedral Memorial Hall.
Gathered around the coffee urn are a former Renous inmate worried about his sons, a senior struggling with cancer, an alcoholic who walked across the Westmorland Street bridge to get here, the mother of four pre-schoolers, and a young couple who slept in a bank lobby last night.
“Each person has a name and a story, and all deserve our respect and kindness,” explained Doug Milander, a co-ordinator of the Monday morning drop-in for people in need. “We can’t solve all their problems, which might include mental illness, addictions, criminal records, a history of abuse, chronic unemployment, but we can try to make their Monday mornings a bit better.”
Earlier this year, an average of 70 people showed up weekly. It takes dozens of sandwiches and muffins, as well as cheese, fruit, coffee and juice, to feed them. Most of the food is donated by cathedral families, the ACW, and the numerous volunteers, aged eight to seniors, who help in the kitchen.
Partnerships are key. Volunteers from the Anglican Parish of St. Margaret’s help monthly, as does a team from New Maryland United Church. The ecumenical flavour is also evident in the live music, provided by men from Lincoln Baptist Church. Guests often crowd around the guitars to sing gospel tunes.
Other guests speak with social workers from Partners for Youth, an organization that helps find affordable housing, or they line up to see UNB student nurses who take blood pressures and glucose readings.
Archdeacon Patricia Drummond has started a Bible study for the group. Some merely want a warm, safe place to sip their coffee and chat. Sometimes it’s a tale of woe, sometimes the conversation is full of laughter.
A highlight for many is looking for treasures on the tables of free clothing (e.g., T-shirts, jackets, boots, gloves) and small housewares including towels, bedding and dishes.
On the last Monday of the month the big draw is four bus tickets or a $10 gift card for a grocery store, coffee shop or drugstore.
“Some people face harsh realities and they can be quite demanding,” Doug said. “We wish we could give out more, but most are extremely grateful for the help. Occasionally, our committee has taken people to the food bank, helped them move or find furnishings, filled out forms, outfitted a new baby. We’ve even gone to court with people.”
As fall turns to winter, the size of the crowd will likely grow. If you can help by making a loaf of sandwiches, baking a banana bread, donating winter clothes your child has outgrown, the outreach team thanks you.
“A small group is on site opening our hearts to people in need on Monday mornings, but it’s a 24/7 job for all of us to love our neighbours as ourselves,” Doug concluded.
Ann, Doug, Penny – the whole team, including Rev. Kelly Burke’s crew and the St. Margaret’s folks – just do an awesome job! They create a warm, caring atmosphere for folks who may not be accustomed to this. Kudos also to UNB student nurses!