De Mazenod Door is open to everyone
Serving dignity with coffee to the poor and marginalized
A few years ago I took part in a hunger awareness activity, Do the Math. Participants were given a basket of food basics to live off of for a week. I can’t recall the contents of my basket but I do remember it wasn’t enough to satisfy my hunger. I lasted the week only because I’m stubborn and wanted to see it through, but I was never so consistently hungry before and I was sorely tempted to cheat from time to time.
I was thinking of that challenge and the awareness it had raised as I made my way across the city to St. Patrick’s Church to talk to someone there about a soup kitchen that I heard was serving hundreds of people a day, thousands of meals a month.
St. Patrick’s takes up a whole city block in downtown Hamilton, between King Street and Main Street East and Victoria Avenue South and East Avenue. There are a few buildings on the site: a big, beautiful church with well-kept grounds, a rectory, an elementary school with gym and a playground, and a soup kitchen with a tabled dining area.
Soup kitchen doesn’t really convey the concept though, for it conjures to mind an image more destitute than dignified and therein lies the difference; at De Mazenod Door, dignity is served with the coffee and sandwiches, respect is provided free of charge and privacy and anonymity are a right enjoyed by everyone.
I met with the Outreach Coordinator, Sherri Ramirez, who was more than happy to step away from the serving end and speak with me about De Mazenod Door and how they feed over 300 meals a day, no questions asked, to whoever shows up hungry. There is morning coffee and something else; it might be a yoghurt and banana, maybe a muffin, but always coffee, and a lunch. All the food comes from donations so the menu varies.
It was while eating dinner with friends that I first heard of De Mazenod Door. We meet regularly for dinner at one of Hamilton’s new epicurean hot spots to talk and eat and talk and drink and talk some more. So much socializing goes on around food, we derive more than just physical sustenance when we enjoy our food in groups together. In the summertime, barbecues bring together families and neighbours in fun around food, forging connections that serve to strengthen our communities and social networks.
One of my friends attends St. Patrick’s and told me the story of how one day Father Tony was barbecuing in the back of the rectory and someone approached him and asked him for some food. And it wasn’t just one person, there soon became a steady stream of people looking for food. Father Tony answered with De Mazenod Door, named after Eugene de Mazenod, a French Catholic clergyman who founded the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in the early nineteenth century. Committed to serving the poor, marginalized and forgotten, de Mazenod believed in the right of the individual to humanity, first, to be treated as a human being equal in all rights, regardless of social, economic, physical or intellectual characteristics.
What struck me about my friend’s story is the level of community involvement in sustaining the Outreach program, and how widespread that community is, for it stretches far beyond the parish boundaries of St. Patrick’s and into the greater Hamilton area beyond King and Victoria Streets. Volunteers, all of them.
As I stood and talked with Sherri, I watched a constant line of people approach the door, which was answered with a smile and a handful of food. The people who volunteer their time, do so gladly, and they treat their customers with respect. It was either “sir” or “ma’am” in their conversations as they passed out food. Rules exist and disruptive behaviour is not tolerated, but if you give respect, you get respect and the police have seldom been called.
The Hamilton Golf and Country Club Foundation is holding their 14th Annual Golf for a Cause Tournament on Tuesday Aug. 1. There’s a silent auction and if you can help with the donation of an item, it would be much appreciated. You can contact the HG & CC Foundation for more information.
Or, if you want to get directly involved in donating time, money or food to De Mazenod Door, you can contact Sherri Ramirez at St. Patrick’s and she can help.
And if you’re reading this and you’re hungry, you know where to go for some food. No questions asked.
The people who volunteer their time, do so gladly, and they treat their customers with respect.