Its another cold winter’s night on the streets of downtown Toronto. Outside the temperature which is in the minus teens is made worse by the cutting wind blowing puffs of snow up and down Dundas Street. In the Parish Hall of St. Patrick’s Church however there is a Sunday night refuge from the elements. Here hundreds of grateful men, women and children sit back comfortably to enjoy a hot bowl of soup and a nutritious meal, glad to be out of the cold.
St. Patrick’s Out of the Cold is part of the cooperative Out of the Cold Program in downtown Toronto. Each winter many faith and community based organizations band together to ensure that on any night of the week people can find shelter, a meal and a bed as an alternative to sleeping outdoors and going hungry. St. Patrick’s has been a part of this program for about 20 years now and on a regular basis serves meals to about 300 people and offers overnight shelter for 80 people.
The one thing that strikes me most about OOTC is the diversity of people, both in those using the service as well as in the volunteers that keep it running. Each week there are represented many ethnicities, faiths, economic backgrounds, and ages range from 8 to 80. Our guests include homeless men, women and children, single mothers trying to make ends meet, lonely seniors from the neighborhood as well as many others whose stories are all unique. What keeps it all running smoothly week after week can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit and a committed group of volunteers who have been doing the job for so long it all usually goes like clockwork. Our volunteers are parishioners as well as Catholics from other parishes and Christians from other denominations, medical students, recovering addicts, people from the street as well as many other groups and individuals.
Out of the Cold is one of those strange ministries in that each year we hope it will be our last and growth in our numbers is actually a sign of failure. Nobody is under the illusion that soup and a mat on the Church Hall floor is an adequate solution to the crisis of poverty in our city. Yet we keep marching on knowing that for the time being the best we can offer is our hospitality and a safe, non-judgmental environment.