Franciscan Br. John Corriveau, the retired Bishop of Nelson, B.C., hands a takeout meal to Chico, one of the regulars at St. Francis Table, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. St. Francis Table is experiencing a volunteer shortage during the crisis. Michael Swan

St. Francis Table support down due to coronavirus

By  Bernadette Timson, Youth Speak News
  • July 2, 2020

The coronavirus is playing havoc with pretty well every aspect of operations at St. Francis Table which feeds those in need in Toronto’s west end.

How it feeds its guests has changed, donations are down and the volunteers, particularly students from Toronto area schools that are integral to its operation, have declined over the four months since COVID-19 brought drastic change to everyday life.

“The COVID-19 virus has affected St. Francis Table in many ways,” said Br. John Frampton, a Capuchin Franciscan brother and animator of the Franciscan-led establishment serving the Parkdale neighbourhood.

Christmas 2020 will mark the 33rd anniversary of St. Francis Table opening for business to serve $1 meals in a restaurant setting to the mainly homeless and working poor population of Canada’s largest city. In normal times, up to 250 three-course meals are served daily and its mission of service has been helped over the years to a large degree through the efforts of school groups and other volunteers.

Frampton says these volunteers have not been able to help out because of the pandemic.

“Volunteer numbers are an issue because the seniors are taking precautions not to be put in harm’s way,” he said. “We have young people who are not allowed to come because their parents refuse to send them as a precaution, and that’s understandable.”

Donations are also down and together with fewer volunteers, that has affected the number of meals being served. Normally St. Francis Table would have nine restaurant sittings a week, but health restrictions have turned St. Francis Table into a takeout restaurant for now.

“Right now, we’re only doing six meals a week, Monday through Friday, lunch and dinner on Tuesday. If we had more volunteers, we’d be able to do more,” said Frampton.

“We’re working with what we get, and our patrons are quite happy with the fact that we’re still open. We’ve seen an increase in those who rely on St. Francis Table. We’ve had a number of new patrons for various reasons. Some have been laid off, some are not working any more, so income is an issue.” 

Daniel Maglietta is one of the young volunteers who has been unable to aid St. Francis Table during the pandemic, though he looks forward to returning this month. He learned of the restaurant through his Columbian Squires youth group. Maglietta is hoping upon his return to see other youth answering the call too.

“There’s nothing really to worry about. It may seem a little odd because you’re serving people whom you’ve never met before. But they’re very friendly, they’re very welcoming as well,” said Maglietta. “The patrons themselves are nice when it comes to serving. They’re very grateful for what you’re doing, like helping them out. The staff are all very welcoming. … It’s an amazing environment there.”

Maglietta has seen the appreciation of those who need a hand. It’s been powerful to witness, he said.

“There’s one time I remember serving a table. It was about four years ago. A mother and her child, who looked like he was maybe 12, 13 years old, just the two of them sitting at the table together,” he said. “Their clothes weren’t the greatest, and you could tell that they were in need. They were super grateful for everything we were doing.”

(Timson, 21, is a graduate of Humber College’s Event program.)

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