Food bank re­cip­i­ents ‘also come for the love’

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - RELIGION - DAR­LENE POLACHIC

When Joanne Vil­leneuve be­came a fol­lower of Christ, she asked God, “What can I do for You?”

The first thing she felt com­pelled to do was start a Bi­ble study in her east-side Chaben Place neigh­bour­hood. She soon learned some of the peo­ple com­ing were strug­gling fi­nan­cially just as she was.

“I didn’t re­al­ize how poor some of them were un­til a dis­abled man from the group called me one evening and said, ‘Joanne, I haven’t eaten any­thing in three days and I’m faint­ing from hunger. Can you help me?’ My eyes welled with tears, be­cause I’ve been home­less on more than one oc­ca­sion.”

Vil­leneuve didn’t have much in her own cup­boards, so she called other mem­bers of the Bi­ble study group and soon col­lected a shop­ping cart full of gro­ceries for the caller.

Within a month, she had learned of sev­eral other peo­ple in the area who needed food. One man was liv­ing in his truck in a park­ing lot.

“I helped as much as I could,” she said. “Some­times it was only a bowl of Kraft din­ner — just enough to get them through the night.”

Clearly, more food was needed, so at her son Clif­ford’s sug­ges­tion, Vil­leneuve con­tacted a nearby church where Clif­ford had at­tended kids’ club. The church was Col­lege Park Covenant.

The pas­tor of­fered to ap­proach the Saska­toon Food Bank for food that vol­un­teers from the church would pick up ev­ery two weeks and de­liver to Vil­leneuve’s apart­ment. There it was bagged for the peo­ple on her grow­ing list.

“Af­ter a while the verse from Matthew 25 came to my mind: ‘I was naked and you clothed me,’ along with the idea to go on Ki­jiji to ask for cloth­ing do­na­tions and to an­nounce I had cloth­ing to give away. But I wanted to give the peo­ple more than just a shirt. The thought came: When you open the door, pre­tend Je­sus is stand­ing be­side the per­son knock­ing. He’s say­ing, ‘This is my buddy, what can you do for him.?’ ”

Vil­leneuve took the idea to heart. When kids came, she gave them some­thing from the food bank treat box. To their par­ents, she of­fered juice or crack­ers.

“My cloth­ing room (my spare bed­room) be­came a mini-church, but it got to be too crowded. Vol­un­teers were com­ing to my apart­ment to bag and hand out food, and peo­ple were lined up in my apart­ment wait­ing to col­lect the bags.”

Even­tu­ally the food and cloth­ing min­istry was re­lo­cated to Col­lege Park Covenant Church. One mem­ber, Donna Fen­ton, thor­oughly em­braced the pro­ject and ral­lied vol­un­teers.

To­day, the East­side Food­bank serves 30 peo­ple, the num­ber the vol­un­teers can man­age, with a wait­ing list. Ev­ery two weeks, re­cip­i­ents get food sup­plied by the food bank, “but they also come for the love,” Vil­leneuve said. “We en­cour­age them to ar­rive at the church at 9:30. The food ar­rives at 10, but part of the min­istry is pro­vid­ing an op­por­tu­nity to so­cial­ize with one an­other. Many of th­ese peo­ple don’t have any fam­ily. This be­comes their fam­ily. Some re­fer to it as ‘their church.’ ”

The scrip­ture verse “I was a stranger and you took me in” led Vil­leneuve and Col­lege Park Covenant pas­tor Kirsten Wald­schmidt to es­tab­lish the Cof­fee Club, which al­ter­nates with food bank weeks and runs from 4:30 to 6 p.m. The for­mat is typ­i­cally a meet and greet time fol­lowed by a spe­cial event such as an out­door pic­nic, in­door street hockey, a hand­work pro­ject or a spe­cial meal hosted by the church. The event ends with 20 min­utes of Bi­ble study fol­lowed by a prayer time. “It they want to pray they can. If not, they can just lis­ten. We take prayer re­quests and en­cour­age par­tic­i­pants to pray with and for one an­other,” Vil­leneuve said. The last item on the agenda is al­ways a draw for a door prize pro­vided by the church.

Wald­schmidt is sup­port­ive of Vil­leneuve’s pro­ject. “Joanne and I have talked a lot about how her in­volve­ment is help­ing peo­ple of the con­gre­ga­tion in­ter­act with peo­ple they might not in­ter­act with oth­er­wise. There’s a cer­tain amount of dis­com­fort in­volved, not just within our church, but within so­ci­ety as a whole. Peo­ple be­come in­se­cure be­cause they’re un­sure how to act, how to be a friend.”

Wald­schmidt says there is a de­sire for the church to be more en­gaged in the com­mu­nity. “It’s a long time in com­ing, but it’s start­ing to hap­pen. We are a church in tran­si­tion and learn­ing to live into it well. We’re try­ing to en­cour­age growth around the idea that ef­fec­tive change doesn’t come from hand­ing out some­thing to some­one, but from build­ing re­la­tion­ships with them. We’re en­cour­ag­ing venues and op­por­tu­ni­ties to make such re­la­tion­ships hap­pen, and I know what we’re do­ing will have a larger im­pact in time.”

DAR­LENE POLACHIC/THE Starphoenix

Kirsten Wald­schmidt, pas­tor of Col­lege Park Covenant Church, and Joanne Vil­leneuve op­er­ate a food bank min­istry from Col­lege Park Covenant.

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