De Mazenod Door is open to ev­ery­one

Serv­ing dig­nity with cof­fee to the poor and marginal­ized

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Mar­garet Shkimba is a writer who lives in Hamil­ton. She can be reached at men­r­va­sofia@gmail.com or you can “Friend” her on Face­book and fol­low her on Twit­ter (@men­r­va­sofia)

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.

MAR­GARET SHKIMBA

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