By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
WELLAND – Works of charity are invaluable and, perhaps, irreplaceable in the Rose City and no doubt other communities.
Just one example is Harvest Kitchen, which opens another season Friday, November 1. Its lineage goes back to 1997 when the forerunner, Out of the Cold, had its start in Welland.
Something of significance in Harvest Kitchen’s 2019-2020 operations is that all nights are completely covered with the exception of Saturday, said the program coordinator, Rev. Robert Bond. The previous year, a Friday evening site was available only on the third and fourth Fridays of the month in the November through March annual initiative. Other years, it did not operate Friday evenings.
Bond, who works as Coordinator of Spiritual and Religious Care at Niagara Health, has been involved in Welland’s community supper/hospitality program from the time Out of the Cold started.
In late 1996, as hospital chaplain, he was asked by the clinical manager of Mental Health at Welland hospital if something comparable to Toronto’s Out-of-the-Cold could be made available locally. It would be “in response to the fact that discharges from 2 South (the hospital’s mental health ward) were being made onto the street.”
The request, according to Bond, led to a forum of local churches to explore the possibility, then the formation of a steering committee, then a meeting of trainers and then in-depth sessions for volunteers. Thank heaven for the interest of our churches!
On Friday, January 10, 1997, the first site opened in space at Holy Trinity Anglican Church. It ran weekly, Friday night through Saturday morning. By the close of program year at the end of March, there were three sites and nights: Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Oak Centre and All Peoples’ United Church.
The program grew over the years until the fall of 2002 when Hope House was opened and Out of the Cold’s overnight component was no longer needed. It then turned into Harvest Kitchen community supper outreach.
What’s remarkable is that this is a volunteer-based initiative anchored by several faith communities and one social agency, Hope Centre. The church sites do their own fundraising, for example, trivia nights, and/or receive financial assistance from their respective churches. We should be thankful they are able to keep going year after year.
Holy Trinity returned as a venue in 2018-2019 after a lengthy absence. Bond earlier said this was “like a reincarnation” because the site was involved the first year of the program’s operation. Others have been involved for many years, like St. Kevin, Sacré-Coeur and Central United while others are relative newcomers, like Sts. Peter and Paul and Southridge Church.
I asked Bond if he could provide comparative numbers showing turnouts from year-to-year but he could not because “we don’t keep a count.” However, some individual sites may keep track of the number of guests who visit.
Bond publicly acknowledged Welland Transit with “resounding thanks” for continuing to provide free service: “The guests are given a Harvest Kitchen-ONLY transit pass. This lets them use the bus system – with its established bus stops – to get to supper and then back home.” The importance of the complimentary passes can’t be overlooked because the sites are scattered throughout the city and not easily within walking distance for all or accessible to all, especially in inclement winter weather.
What would this program be without the involvement of so many faith communities here in the city? That it is still going after 20+ years is nothing short of amazing. Well done, low key and low profile Rev. Bond for your ongoing involvement, and well done participating groups and teams of volunteers! What would we do without you?
Here is the 2019-2020 Harvest Kitchen site schedule, full details are provided in the accompanying graphic:
Sunday night: Central United Church;
Monday night: Église du Sacré-Coeur;
Tuesday night: Hope Centre;
Wednesday night: St. Kevin Roman Catholic Church;
Thursday night: first and second Thursday of the month, Hope Centre; third Thursday, Holy Trinity Anglican Church (market door at the back of the church); fourth and fifth Thursdays, Sts. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church;
Friday night: Southridge Church.