Magazines 2020 May - Jun A place to go for the marginalized in downtown Ottawa

A place to go for the marginalized in downtown Ottawa

01 June 2020

St. Peter & St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Ottawa offers a weekly meal and a safe place. During COVID-19 they began distributing bagged meals every Friday evening.

st. peter st pauls anglican
Photo: Karen Stiller

Why we started A Place to Go

A Place to Go started in the 1970s as a coffeehouse, part of the parish’s College and Careers group. It was a place to go instead of partying on a Friday night. Homeless people started wandering in, and the church people started providing sandwiches and soup, and it slowly evolved into what it is today – a weekly drop-in for people who are on limited income and often dealing with loneliness and insecurity around food and housing. We provide a safe Christian place for people to gather and receive pastoral care – they can just relax and play cards and chess with friends. We have a monthly worship service people can attend if they choose.

If you want to start something similar

Visit the drop-ins and shelters that already exist in your community, and make note of what they offer and when they offer it. The last thing you want to do is to start a Wednesday night drop-in if there is another one established in your neighbourhood. Look for the gaps in service and try to fill them. Do street outreach. Fill a backpack with sandwiches, snacks, socks and drink boxes, and look for homeless people. Chat with them and find out what they need, and then design a ministry to fill those needs. Provide the congregation with a biblical understanding of why this is needed and important, and what your goals are going into it. Work on recruiting and supporting volunteers. And pray like crazy.

The struggles along the way

We struggle with not being able to help people as much as we would like. We can struggle to remember that a person has to want to change, and we can’t make that change happen in another person’s life. We’ve had volunteers burn out because it can be difficult and overwhelming at times to serve people who face so many challenges.

And the blessings

The ministry is a reminder that church isn’t all about us and our needs. Learning to identify with and serve the poor is part of Christian discipleship. The fact that A Place to Go has existed for so long has helped shape the character of our parish and provide people with opportunities to grow in their faith.

The COVID-19 pivot

We obviously could no longer operate the drop-in portion of our ministry. We became A Meal to Go and distributed bagged meals every Friday evening, while still strictly observing social distancing. It’s hard. We are meeting people’s need for food security, but pastoral care is all but impossible to provide. We did not want to abandon our Friday night friends, especially since some of the other food programs in the city closed their doors. One or two people oversee the distribution of sacks of food at the front door with a couple of rows of tables between those picking up the meals and the volunteers. We can’t wait until things get back to normal.

Thanks to Kate Sanderson and Michelle Terwilleger for speaking to us about A Place to Go (