Volunteers assist in serving food for a Ripples of Kindness lunch at Sacre-Coeur Catholic Church in Toronto. Photo courtesy Ripples of Kindness

Downtown program ripples with kindness

  • April 4, 2024

The Ripples of Kindness Community Meal program might just be downtown Toronto’s best-kept charitable secret, with a combination of hot meals and hospitality offered each weekend to those who need it most. 

Ripples of Kindness (RoK) is an inter-faith meal program begun to combat social struggles such as homelessness, isolation and poverty. It began with two men seeing the obvious need during a walk in the heart of the city. 

“Deacon Robert Kinghorn and I were walking around on the streets near Sherbourne, Shuter and Dundas and one of the things I found is that most people can find food; there are lots of places to find things to eat, and they can find clothing. But what they cannot find and what they need more than anything is friendship,” said Fr. Prakash Lohale, director of the Office for Interreligious Dialogue for the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Kinghorn is out on the streets weekly with his unique “Church of the Street” ministry, which he writes on in a column in the Register. 

The men decided to ask a group of confirmation students to help them with outreach work, which saw them extend offers for prepared food and fellowship to those in Toronto’s Allan Gardens, with its large homeless population. 

It was the response from the kids after successfully meeting the needs of a handful of the city’s vulnerable population over three weekends that rounded out the idea for a weekly inter-faith meal to become a staple in the community. 

“The kids said that they would have never befriended these people, that they were so afraid to meet people on the street, especially when they see somebody who’s homeless or who’s not dressed like us or dressed shabbily,” Lohale recalled. “They found out that they are people just like us and that we can see the image of Christ in them.” 

“I have to say that over the years walking in this neighbourhood I have wept many tears of sadness for those on the street, but at that moment it was tears of joy that welled up in my eyes. I was so proud of this parish and its young evangelists,” wrote Kinghorn in one of his columns. 

The RoK project has developed over time from a simple one-time offering to something of a tradition.

Six years after its inception, hot meals with a side of friendly dialogue and respect for each other still flow out of the basement of Sacre-Coeur Church on Sherbourne Street every Saturday.  

The inter-faith aspect stems from the program’s volunteers who help provide the meals and help run each event, the first being a group from the Sikh community. 

“I had built a friendship with the Sikh community and so I asked them, ‘Would you like to be involved with this?’ ” Lohale said. “They came very willingly and they used to bring the food and everything for us in the beginning.” 

The mission of working in unison to provide necessities to the less fortunate regardless of religion, race, colour, gender and social status made put the program on a special path. 

“All different groups are involved. We’ve got a Spanish group from Mississauga that comes to bring us Spanish food, there’s a lady from Oakville who’s Caribbean, and she brings Caribbean food. Then we’ve got a Vietnamese group from St. Rose of Lima in  Scarborough that would bring Vietnamese food,” Lohale said. “We have Chinese Martyrs from Markham who bring Chinese food, the Sikhs and the Muslims and the Buddhists, we’ve got different groups coming every week.” 

The volunteers come on a rotating basis, with Deacon Carlos Retamales often assisting in organizing each weekend’s lunch.  

Lohale and company are continuing to affirm the idea that hospitality is an attitude and one that should be shared with friends and strangers alike.

“Pope Francis says we should start by walking together, praying together and working together, but I think the other way (around) is good for me because I find that working together helps us to walk together and then pray together,” he said. 

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