February marked the quarter century anniversary of the Community Breakfast Program at St. George’s Anglican Church in downtown St. Catharines. Over half-a-million breakfasts served in the last 25 years without missing a single morning — a perfect record.
As we have for more than two decades, we serve breakfast to all comers every morning, no questions asked. Thank you to the many tireless volunteers who have made this ministry possible, as well as the church and wider community who have supported it financially. While we pray for an end to the hunger and poverty that necessitates the program in the first place, we also give thanks for God’s provision in being able to serve our community in this way.
Every good cook has a well thought-out and tested recipe for their favourite dish. The program has persisted throughout the past 25 years by sticking to the same basic recipe. We offer a simple breakfast, prepared by volunteers, funded largely by individual donors, and overseen by a team of hands-on leaders. We have a small roster of “mentors” who hand out the bagged breakfasts, maintaining a friendly and loving interaction with our guests and greeting many by name.
I took over leadership of the program in 2020 filling the shoes of the very capable and energetic Janet Veale who had served in that role for more than 20 years. While I’m sure every new leader feels that they face unique challenges, the need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Although our method of serving has changed because of the pandemic, we offer the same breakfast of oatmeal, cereal, toast with peanut butter and jam or Cheez Whiz, orange juice, milk and tea or coffee. Over the past year we served an average of 60 bagged breakfasts daily and provided a further 30 each morning to a nearby overnight shelter. We modified our service several times, beginning with our regular dine-in service, moving to a larger room to allow for greater distancing, changing to carry-out service with no indoor access, and finally, by providing bagged breakfast handed out at the door. We will be ready for the next turn in the long and winding road of the pandemic.
At the outset of the pandemic a number of volunteers and some entire teams decided to step back from service because of concern for their personal safety. Many of these volunteers have subsequently returned, demonstrating their confidence in the safety and hygiene procedures we’ve put in place. Currently, there are more than 150 volunteers who serve once per month on one of our 31 five-person teams. Each team works on the same assigned day of the month throughout the year.
Reflecting on the past year, we are pleased and proud that we have continued our record of unbroken service. Throughout this pandemic we have been guided by two foundational principles. First, we will serve breakfast every morning as we have for 25 years. We seek to meet a need. Second, we can succeed only as God provides and equips. While many things change around us, we testify to God’s unchanging and abundant provision.
Looking forward, we would like to expand our ministry by getting to know our guests better and having more opportunities to talk with those longing to be sure of God’s love for them. Serving breakfast is our ministry; our goal is to welcome our guests into God’s kingdom where each one of us is a guest.
Duncan is a parishioner of St. George’s, St. Catharines, and chair of the Breakfast Program.