Sunday, 29 June 2014

A worthwhile experience

I am reflecting on a volunteer experience I had today at one of the better known Humanitarian organisation in Ottawa. I was asked to help out with meal preparation and serving lunch to those who come in from the street in Ottawa's Lower town on Murray Street. The Shepherd of Good Hope is well known in Ottawa and is centrally located on the corner of Murray Street and King Edward. Everyone knows it and knows of their good work for the poor and the homeless. It is the largest Not for Profit organisation dedicated to helping the poor and the homeless in Ottawa.

The story began 30 years ago at the Parish of St-Brigid in Ottawa. The priests of this parish had started  feeding homeless men in this poor area of Ottawa. The need was great and Shepherd of Good Hope was established. Today Shepherd offers many services to the needy from a 500 bed shelter partitioned  in several buildings around Ottawa, free meal service, health, assisted living services and other programs. The services are offered to Men and Women alike. Hundreds of hot meals are served on any given day and the shelter service is helpful especially during our extremely cold winters but also provides a safe and secure place for people who have nowhere to go and are vulnerable.

I was asked by Denis Schryburt who is running for Councillor in the Somerset Ward in Ottawa's Municipal elections on October 27 to lend a hand.
He has been participating in this program for years with his family and friends. We got to 233 Murray street at 08:30 am and started work, put on an apron and start cutting up meat and vegetables so that the experienced volunteer chefs in the kitchen can cook up the meal for lunch at 11:30am. Everyone is a volunteer and many have been doing this work for many years, so they are old hands at it. There is also a permanent Staff who manage all operations and a Board of Directors.

The meals are not only free but nourishing and copious, today there was a thick minestrone with chicken meat, a beef stew, a spicy rice curry, 2 vegetables and a coleslaw, tea, coffee, milk, bread and a rich dessert.  After lunch around 12:30 pm, for those who want we also have sandwiches to give out in case they are hungry in the afternoon.

The clients are old, young, of all ethnic background, male and female. The ladies have there own dining room as per their request. Many are fragile and afraid, the streets can be very mean even in Ottawa.  The whole operation is like clockwork, the dining area is spotlessly clean and all meals are served on chinaware, no paper cups or plastic plates. Many thanked us for preparing the food and serving them lunch today, telling us how good the food was. I saw what a kind word and a smile can make a big difference for someone down on their luck. Some 300 people had a good lunch on what I was told was a slow day due to the long Canada Day Weekend, the numbers are usually greater.

It made me think of the numerous platitudes we too often hear about how Canada is a rich country, when you see this type of need in just one city and this city is the National Capital, can you imagine what it is in other cities like Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Calgary and elsewhere. No need to look in far away lands to help out people you do not know. Look in your own backyard there are plenty of Canadians who need a helping hand and some compassion.


Our volunteers on this day at the Soup kitchen of Shepherd of Good Hope.

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