by The Reverend Deacon Sheila Plant 

When we see Burlington, we see tree-lined streets with stately homes, we see a downtown core full of shops, boutiques, and a large variety of restaurants. We see a waterfront that we are so proud of, we see parks, playgrounds, high end condominiums springing up everywhere and we see large subdivisions.

What we don’t see are the homeless, those living below the poverty line, and those who wonder how they are going to put the next meal on the table for their families. At St. Luke’s (Burlington) we have made a concerted effort to reduce this problem and to reach out to members of our community who suffer from food insecurities.

Ten years ago we began a partnership with Food for Life to become a downtown site, where people would be able to receive free groceries on a regular basis. 

Food for Life is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It is a food recovery program, not a food bank, and it supports over 100 programs in our community. 

Over 18,000 neighbours are helped each month. Food donors include Costco, Fortinos, Longos, Whole Foods, area farmers, and wholesalers. Four refrigerated trucks are on the road everyday from Monday to Saturday picking up and delivering products to the many sites.

In the spring of 2010 St. Luke’s officially became a site for Food for Life and since then we have been open every Tuesday morning except for Christmas and New Year’s, with one cancellation due to a severe snowstorm. With the blessing of our rector, Canon Stuart Pike, I and a small group of volunteers began putting things in place to get our site ready. On a hot July morning in 2010 we opened our doors to receive our neighbours for the first time. The truck had come, we had organized everything, and were ready to go. On our first Tuesday, six people came. We were deflated! However, in the coming weeks, thanks to advertising by Food for Life and an article in the newspaper, things changed drastically. 

Since that humble beginning we have seen an average of 40–50 people per week. We became a model site for other facilities wanting to become a site for Food for Life, and we have many visitors wondering what we are all about. We are extremely proud of our accomplishments, and the impact that we have had on our community. 

We have had some of friends with us since the very beginning … they continue to come weekly for food. We serve snacks and drinks, hot soup in the winter, and provide a safe, warm caring environment for those who need it. We have seen friendships develop, neighbours helping neighbours and have also had several join us for Sunday services. They have developed a rapport with the volunteers and many are willing to share good news with us. 

It is so gratifying when we hear someone say, “I’m sorry but I won’t be coming anymore. I have a job now and things are looking up for me.” We celebrate with them. They also know that if their situation changes, they are welcome back at anytime, no questions asked. 

There is often a language barrier but between hand signs, and friends acting as interpreters, we keep the lines of communication open. We pray with them if they ask for prayer and most of all, we listen.

We have been fortunate to have received donations from some of our parishioners, and the box in the Narthex is often filled with non perishable items to add to our supplies. 

Over the years we have tried to make Christmas a special time for all. Everyone who needs a turkey gets one. We have done reverse Advent gift bags, we have done special treats for them, and two years we did a mitten tree so that no one would have cold hands. This was a great success thanks to our parishioners. 

Over the past two years, we have partnered with École Renaissance, a French school near the church. Each December a group of students come and bring all sorts of paper products, toothpaste etc. and stay and help sort food. They love helping and it brings such joy to see these young people so actively involved, going about the tasks and listening to them speak French. What a blessing they are.

Last year at St. Luke’s:

  • 31,966 total pounds delivered to St.Luke’s
  • 8,870 pounds meat
  • 13,469 pounds fresh produce
  • 1,315 pounds dairy
  • 1,940 pounds prepared foods
  • 4,005 pounds bread
  • 582 pounds juice
  • 1,785 pounds dry goods
  • 121 neighbours/month
  • 328 visits/month
  • 31% served are children
  • 30% are single parent families
  • 26% are on ODSP
  • 23% rely on their old age pension for income
  • 55% of households say the main reason for attending the program is lack of an income.

Food for Life is a very important part of my ministry as I continue to minister to the church scattered. This program has touched the lives of so many people in our community. For that, I give thanks to God.

The Deacon’s Bench is a regular feature in The Niagara Anglican. Each month a Deacon will inform us about the ministry s/he conducts in their parish and the wider community. This month’s columnist is The Reverend Deacon Sheila Plant, of St. Luke’s (Burlington).