Lessons learned from a soup kitchen
On Friday Kym Geddes (or Kymmie as Doug Ford likes to call her) signed a bunch of us up to work at The Good Sheppard shelter on Queen Street East. Good Sheppard is a Catholic mission that has been running since 1963 in a creaky century old building. The first floor has a chapel and large dining hall. The second floor is a drug and alcohol rehab center and the third floor is showers and sleeping quarters for about 60 men. The sleeping quarters are nothing more than cubicles with bunk beds. But they're better than sleeping on the street. The bedding is changed and washed every single day.
Part of our tour was the donations room. What a revelation. Whenever I have contributed to a food drive I always figured the food was sorted out and put into boxes for individual families. I'm sure that happens but at Good Sheppard the basement is filled to overflowing with boxes of individual food donations. That means to make a single soup for one day's lunch the cook may have to open 200 cans. She's a magician. Into that same stock she will throw canned vegetables, lentils and some cut up sausage. She balances the task of maximizing her resources with the objective of providing a tasty and nourishing meal.
Friday was a slow day at Good Sheppard; only about 150 people filed past us at the cafeteria style counter where we served up soup, a pasta and meat dish, slices of bread, apple pie and fresh tangerines. Over the course of the two hours more food arrived including salads and vegetables. They were leftovers from a corporate lunch somewhere. On a busy day, around the time that those who receive government cheques start running out of money Good Sheppard can serve upwards of 800. There were few if any clients this time who looked like they were one semester of night school away from getting a job. These are seriously damaged people. Some obviously suffering from mental illness, Natives and immigrants for whom the dream hasn’t worked out and others ravaged by alcohol, drugs and disease. There were a couple of well dressed guys. I suspected they might have low paying jobs and opt for the soup kitchen in order to stretch their earnings for themselves or their families. I wondered what it might be like to go home after putting in a work day and trying to hide the fact from your kids that to keep a roof over their heads you eat in a soup kitchen.
Good Sheppard is peopled with priests and dedicated lay people. Volunteers staff the lunch counter every day. They serve the lowliest in our society knowing very well that for many of them there will be no escape. That's why Seaton House has a palliative care unit, so these people can die in a warm bed and with dignity.
I wish anyone who has ever used the phrases "poverty industry" or "poverty pimp" could spend just one day working here. Anyone who thinks the poor are lazy and that shelter programs are run by people whose main interest is staying in the "business" of catering to homeless people is either ignorant or heartless. The next time some jerk starts banging the drum about how much we spoil the poor in this city tell them to see the Father at Good Sheppard about spending an afternoon there.
Merry Christmas. And thanks for making 2012 our most successful year on NewsTalk 1010 and for Moore in the Morning. NewsTalk is now Toronto's go to radio station for news, perspective and great personalities. See you in 2013.