St. Francis Table’s Br. John Frampton is surrounded by members of the Humber College nursing program, from left, Francisca Berg Feret, associate dean Sandra Filice and Heidi Siu outside the St. Clare Centre. Photo courtesy Francisca Burg-Feret

A side of health care on St. Francis Table menu

By  Luke Mandato, Catholic Register Special
  • December 8, 2023

After having for years helped to deliver daily nourishment to those in need, St. Francis Table is now offering free health services to that same clientele.

Guests at St. Francis Table’s Parkdale eatery in Toronto’s west end have been served hot meals since 1987. All that’s requested for a meal is $1 to allow patrons to retain their sense of dignity. Health care is the latest addition to the menu.

The partnership was conjured up by Humber College’s Bachelor of Nursing faculty Francisca Burg-Feret and Heidi Siu, who after an annual medical service trip to Guatemala in 2020 began planning how to best provide for the vulnerable in Toronto. Now, Health for All’s mobile nurse-led clinics are partnered with three agencies, including St. Francis Table.

The clinic at St. Francis Table will run until the end of the semester and closes on Dec. 8. The nursing program also has an outreach project planned with St. Philip Neri Church’s Saturday food bank on Jan. 13.

“Br. John Frampton was warm and welcoming,” Burg-Feret said of the Capuchin friar who runs St. Francis Table. “He opened his arms to us and gave us the space right next door, the St. Clare room, and so that’s where we’ve established the clinic.”

The St. Clare room is connected to St. Francis Table and operates as a drop-in space for weekly AA meetings and Bible groups. It was originally used as a space where customers could get a second cup of coffee after lunch and was run by Teresa, a frequent diner at the restaurant before her passing.

As of September 2023, that space is functioning as a clinic run by fourth-year nursing students in their final practicum to address four areas of assistance for those who need it. The holistic approach covers advocacy, health education, primary health care and mental health support. Burg-Feret explained that these components go hand in hand, as in the case of one patient.

“We had a young man who asked for someone to look at his wounds... he had been trying to cut himself,” Burg-Feret recalled. “As our students were redressing his wounds, he broke down and cried and shared that he had lost his job and that his problems with addiction led him to start using drugs again. It was sad, but very re-affirming that we created this place where people feel it’s safe to come in and ask for some help.”

The wrap-around approach allows nursing students to cover a multitude of accommodations in a relatively short period. Nurses can help with wound treatment, sourcing antibiotics, blood pressure checks, OHIP assistance and much more. The clinic is looking for family doctors or nurse practitioners to volunteer their time for additional help.

The clinic works as a true collaboration with St. Francis Table, making use of its existing trusting relationship with clients. Despite only operating from Tuesday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. since the third week of September, around 300 people have already received assistance from the project.

“We really do rely on our partnership with St. Francis to leverage our mutual goals and expertise to work together to present a holistic package for our clients in terms of what they need that’s individualized to their care,” Siu said.

Whether it’s for a hot meal, medical attention or just to talk to someone who will listen, the Health for All partnership between St. Francis Table and Humber College’s nursing program is an example of the importance of taking care of your neighbour in more ways than one.

To Burg-Feret, growth and betterment go both ways.

“Helping the most vulnerable in our population and getting our students on board. That was our goal and our vision, helping the most vulnerable but also providing a really great education and learning experience for our students,” she said.

Since it first opened its doors in 1987, St. Francis Table has as a policy that no one will be turned away without an offering for a meal. People from all walks of life have found themselves visiting St. Francis Table on Queen Street West, whether they’re local seniors, young parents, refugees or individuals struggling with homelessness or addiction.

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