Every summer for 20 years, Lucio Abbruzzese, second from bottom right, has led groups through Toronto streets to give food to the homeless. Photo courtesy of Lucio Abbruzzese

20 years of feeding homeless

  • July 5, 2015

TORONTO - The Street Patrol ministry not only feeds the homeless, it feeds the souls of those in service.

That’s what Lucio Abbruzzese has found through his 20 years with the downtown ministry. He said Street Patrol is about sharing our humanity with those who are homeless and destitute.

“The summer allows us to spend some time with a group of homeless people in a park and just sit down somewhere outside,” said Abbruzzese. “It allows us to just share in our humanity and make them feel like they are a part of God’s family.”

Abbruzzese started Street Patrol in 1995 in partnership with the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Catholic Youth (OCY). Once a week during  the summer, the youth volunteers meet on the front steps of St. Patrick’s Church before they start on their route, giving sandwiches to the homeless.

“We always congregated at St. Patrick’s Church because it was basically ideal for the location. It had free parking... and it was close to the homeless downtown,” said Abbruzzese.

When OCY reorganized its ministry a few years ago, Street Patrol continued under the support of St. Patrick’s parish. Youth groups are the ministry’s main source of volunteers, but other parish groups, tourists and families have also come out to walk with the volunteers.

World Youth Day Toronto in 2002 was a major highlight in Abbruzzese’s 20 years of ministry. That summer, he welcomed about 60 pilgrim groups from around the world each night.

“We also took the World Youth Day Cross with us. That was quite something to see us walking down the streets of downtown Toronto,” he said. “The homeless were very emotional when they saw the cross. Some even cried and wept and prayed with the cross.”

Although Street Patrol has seen overwhelming numbers, Abbruzzese said every summer is different. They have experienced summers with both large and small turnouts, but there has never been one night when no volunteers were willing to walk the streets.

“It’s sort of ebbed and flowed over the years,” said Abbruzzese. “The homeless people that we see have sort of ebbed and flowed over the years, as well. We’ve seen the good and the bad. We’ve seen people leave for good reasons, leave because they’ve passed away. Also, we’ve seen people out there for 20 years.”

Abbruzzese said there are so many negative misconceptions about the homeless and why they are on the streets. It is more than a lack of ability. He said the number one reason people resort to the streets is struggles with mental illness and addiction or a combination of both. Another common theme in people’s stories is that they lack family and friend support.

“The biggest one is that they’re human and that they have feelings, just like you and me,” said Abbruzzese. “Don’t be afraid to look them in the eye and smile. Even if you don’t want to give money or food... do not be ashamed to look them in the eye and smile. That helps a great deal. It really boosts their morale and it makes them feel like they’re not animals.”

Abbruzzese said the Street Patrol team has yet to decide how to celebrate the 20th anniversary, but volunteers will continue to go out and serve their brothers and sisters on the streets every week.

The first day of this year’s Street Patrol mission is July 8. For those interested in being a part of Street Patrol, contact Abbruzzese at inmylife@rogers.com, call (416) 738-9197 or visit stpatrickstoronto.wordpress.com.

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