Toronto's Parkdale food bank saved

  • December 3, 2007

{mosimage}TORONTO - St. Philip's Centre is well on its way to another 20 years of serving the poor in Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood, avoiding near bankruptcy and eviction just before Christmas.

The Centre is the only food bank in Parkdale, serving approximately 600 families a month.

St. Philip's Centre was started by the priests of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, who run Holy Family parish on Queen Street in the heart of Parkdale. In the 1980s the parish priests were overwhelmed by the numbers of people showing up at their rectory door asking for food.

But with costs escalating to $33,000 a year, the parish has found running the food bank too much of a burden.

{sidebar id=1} Though word the parish would not be renewing its support came with less than a month's notice, St. Philip's Centre volunteer Robert Thorpe is adamant that the parish and priests deserves credit for sustaining a nearly impossible task for so long.

“Credit should be given where credit is due. They did the work,” said Thorpe.

Governments have come to expect that religious communities and churches will take responsibility when welfare is inadequate or government programs fail to reach the people they're supposed to help, said Adam Spence, Ontario Association of Food Banks executive director.

“It's a call to action for government. Ordinary citizens have borne an extraordinary burden for a generation,” said Spence. “The first food banks, which were started by a number of religious organizations in the early ’80s, they've been doing their work for 25 years. That's a generation of service.”

St. Philip's Centre still needs money to put together a $45,000 budget to stay in operation for the next year, said Thorpe. With the help of a volunteer lawyer and the possibility of foundation support, it looks like the Centre will be reconstituted in a form that ensures the food bank will continue to be a community resource in Parkdale.

“We do see this as a community-based initiative, and we want to make it work on a co-operative model,” said Thorpe, a 10-year Catholic Worker veteran.

It's essential that the food bank remains a part of the Parkdale scene, said Capuchin Franciscan Brother John Frampton of St. Francis' Table. The community has more than its share of the disabled, new immigrants and refugees, the addicted and others at high risk of going hungry.

“Our job is to serve and love the people who show up at our door,” said Thorpe. “I no longer want to hear the word client. Br. John calls the people who eat at St. Francis' Table patrons, and that's what they are. They're our patrons.”

Thorpe and the committee of volunteers working on the new structure for the old food bank are hoping to expand the range of services available to patrons beyond emergency groceries. In addition to money for their continued operation, Thorpe is hoping for donations of time from professional counsellors, social workers and others who can help people in crisis.

Spence calls the near death of St. Philip's Centre just the tip of the iceberg for the 300 food banks across Ontario struggling to keep their doors open.

“Looking at it in terms of the cross food banks have had to bear, it's heavy,” he said. “It's time for others to bear, to take that on their backs, and make sure that those who rightfully need to bear it take that on.”

To donate to St. Philip's Centre send a cheque payable to St. Francis' Table, 1322 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont., M6K 1L4. To volunteer, contact Thorpe at (647) 342-7937.

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