Before opening the doors to its first patrons of the day Br. John Frampton gathers the volunteer serving staff together to pray the Peace Prayer of St. Francis. For more than a generation, student and teacher volunteers have been learning the joy of working together for the sake of others by volunteering at St. Francis' Table in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood. But as Br. Frampton says, less volunteers are coming to meet the demands of Toronto's hungry. Photo by Michael Swan

St. Francis Table is in dire need of volunteers

  • February 26, 2015

TORONTO - St. Francis Table is hungrier than ever for volunteers to feed those being starved by poverty.

“We have nine meals a week and we like to work with about 10 to 15 volunteers per shift so we are looking for 100 to 150 volunteers a week,” said Br. John Frampton, animator of St. Francis Table, the Franciscan-run restaurant in Toronto’s Parkdale region that serves inexpensive meals to the poor.

“But right now we are probably down to less than 100 volunteers a week.”

Each week St. Francis Table hosts a total of nine meal programs. Lunch is served from noon until 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday while a 4:30-6 p.m. dinner is offered Monday through Thursday. Guests are charged $1 per meal.

During Frampton’s first term as animator, from 2005 to 2013, as well as the two weeks he served there during the summer of 1995, the “restaurant for the poor” relied heavily on school groups to fill its shifts, with students helping in the kitchen and serving tables. But in recent years both the number of schools participating and the size of the groups coming have dwindled.  

“We’ve had a couple of schools that have dropped out in the last couple of years for various reasons,” said the Franciscan friar. “School boards are looking at liability issues and I guess cut costs in terms of liability. Other schools have been coming for years and it is just the realization that teachers are not willing or able to commit themselves to an evening program.”

He continued by stressing that after speaking with a number of schools no long participating, “they say the issues are not at St. Francis Table’s side of things.”

The core volunteers and staff there have been feeling the brunt of the burden.

“Everyone is pulling together and doing a little bit extra,” said Frampton, who recently returned as animator after a year away. “We are putting the word out that we are kind of stretched and hoping some schools could take an evening themselves to fill the holes that are empty. The evening shifts are the ones that we are having problems with.”

Adding to the struggle is the reality that hunger is a growing issue in Toronto. Evidence can be found by looking at the number of meals St. Francis Table served last year.

Prior to 2014 Frampton said the average was about 40,000 patrons served annually but last year “exceeded the 45,000 meal mark ... so the need is greater not lesser.”

He said the solution to both the volunteer shortage as well as the increase in demand will be by focusing on people rather than policies and issues.

“There are programs and policies out there that permit those who are poor to become poorer,” he said. “We get so mixed up dealing with issues and not with people and I think if we put people ahead of the issues then hunger may not be a growing concern.”

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