When you walk into one of the many community kitchens in Newmarket and Aurora, you will be greeted by more than just a home-cooked meal, and you will leave with more than a full stomach.
“What is as fulfilling as the exceptional meal is that the volunteers will greet you warmly every time,” says Carol, a single mother of two. “I come away from a meal feeling warm in being fed, and in spirit, cared for and not so alone.”
Carol has used most of the community kitchens in the area. There are times of the year when you can find a meal every day of the week between Newmarket and Aurora.
Saturdays begin with the Rise and Shine Breakfast hosted by the Aurora United Church, which includes live music put on by local musicians. On Sundays, residents can drop in at Valley View Alliance Church Community for dinner. Monday’s dinner is often hosted by Community Bread on Main Street. On Tuesdays, Trinity United Church is the place to be for a hot lunch hosted by Lunch At My Place (LAMP). The program at Crosslands Community Dinner provides dinner on Saturdays; the meal is served at 5pm but doors open at 4pm and everyone is welcome. Lunch on Thursdays is prepared by Martha’s Table Community Meal Program at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church.
Today is Friday, meaning many community members are spending the evening at Inn From the Cold.
This week’s dinner is hosted by a volunteer group from Trinity United Church. The group leader, Linda, is running around like a host on Thanksgiving, checking the pot of potatoes on the stove then fetching the roast pork from the oven.
“Our volunteers prepare food with love and care, like a meal for their own friends,” says Marilyn Sorochan, Community Meal Coordinator at Inn From the Cold.
“The people who come to these meals are people whose lives contain a lot of challenge,” she notes.
“I’m not starving, but I can’t afford good food,” says one 54-year-old single mother who asks not to be named. “I’m in trouble this winter by myself. I’m dipping into my living expenses just to pay for my utilities.” She talks about her child, who was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome. “I’ve been through a lot in life,” she says. “These meals help me tremendously.”
A hot dinner brings comfort on the most difficult days. For most, it’s the best meal they’ll eat all week. For others, it’s a way to subsidize grocery expenses. It also helps to ensure a balanced diet. But perhaps most of all, it’s about the fellowship.
Bob, a widower in his 80s, sits down at a table nearby with a full plate of roast pork, baked potato, a medley of carrots and peas, baked beans and coleslaw. “Not everyone who comes here is poor,” Bob says, noting he chooses to come for the social aspect as much as he comes for the meal.
When Bob lost his wife nine years ago, the life change was a drastic one. They had been together for 49 years. “Loneliness is just as bad as being poor,” he says.
A gentleman walks by and places a carton of six eggs in front of Bob. “People look after me here,” he says with a laugh.
He disappears momentarily, and comes back with a second plate full of food. “I’ll take this home, and heat it up tomorrow,” he says, as he packs it up into a small Tupperware container.
“When you come to this place, you realize there are good people in it,” Bob says, referring to the volunteers. “They put more into life than what they take out of it.”
His sentiments are shared by many of the others who join for a meal at the tables nearby.
And it’s a reflection of the planning and dedication of the local volunteers. Like Carol, Bob frequents many of the local community kitchens. “I’ve never had a bad meal,” he says.
Of course, there is a lot of preparation involved behind the scenes by staff and volunteers. There is also training involved to ensure the meals are prepared according to Public Health regulations.
Marilyn, who has been volunteering at Inn From the Cold for nearly seven years now, is currently working on the shelter’s meal plan for 2016. Each Friday, a group from the community hosts the meal – such as a faith group, a corporate group, or even a student group.
“There’s something magical that happens when people sit down to enjoy a meal together. That’s why I volunteer here,” Marilyn says. “There are a lot of things too big to change in our community, but what I can do is make sure there’s a warm and welcome meal here on Friday.”
By Charlotte Ottaway
Inn From the Cold
Lunch At My Place (LAMP) – Trinity United Church
Rise and Shine Breakfast – Aurora United Church
Crosslands Community Dinner
Valley View Alliance Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church
Community Bread on Main – St. John Chrysostom Church