The First Interfaith

The First Interfaith

Sr. Susan Moran, of Our Lady Missionaries had a number of experiences that resulted in her strong identification with the poor and marginalized in the city, specifically those living on the streets. In 1987, she along with Fr. John Murphy opened a Saturday lunch and food distribution program, calling it Out of the Cold. Soon churches began offering overnight shelters in their social halls. In 1992 Rosemary Snelgrove, with the encouragement of parish leadership, started a Thursday night-Friday morning program at St. Peter’s Church at Bathurst and Bloor. Members of that community poured in tremendous physical and financial resources from blankets to cooking groups to keep the program running for the next five winters. In 1996, when the need for fresh energy and reinforcements was great, Congregation Darchei Noam, a Reconstructionist synagogue with a strong commitment to social justice, came forward to offer new volunteers and financial help. With their participation in the organization and management of the program, the First Interfaith Out of the Cold program was inaugurated. Since that time, the program has moved to St. Matthew’s United Church and we’ve been joined by dedicated members of the Newman Centre, the First Narayever Congregation and many committed volunteers from the community.

The program is volunteer-run and administered by a Steering Committee comprised of members of the above groups. Space for the program is rented at St. Matthew’s United Church. A team of Shift Managers provides leadership “on the floor” during the weekly operation of the program. The program is funded by individual, group and congregational donations and the City of Toronto assists with security through a contract with Dixon Hall.

What we provide
For approximately 20 weeks from the first week in November to mid-April on Thursdays from 3:00 p.m. until Friday at 8:00 a.m. we will provide:
– a warm and friendly welcome
– dependable structure and routine
– snacks before dinner
– a hot, home-cooked, three or four course meal socialization activities including a movie, card games, board games, conversation, art activities, snacks foot care nursing care clean used clothing new socks, underwear, long underwear, t-shirts dinner for latecomers a safe, quiet place to sleep a hot breakfast a bag lunch a TTC token upon leaving in the morning

The guests of our Out of the Cold program are some of these thousands of people who are homeless. Many guests may or may not have already tried to find shelter in a city-run facility. In many cases, they have had bad experiences in these shelters (such as assault, theft, or harsh treatment) and as a result they prefer to “take their chances” on the streets, where they feel safer. Some feel uncomfortable and confined in shelters that are overcrowded and rough. Many of our guests struggle with mental illness and/or addictions which also affects their ability to comply with strict rules and regulations. The attraction of the Out of the Cold program for many of our guests is the welcoming, non-judgmental atmosphere that’s created during interactions between themselves and the volunteers. It’s the critical balance we strike between hospitality and security that makes our program so effective.

At the First Interfaith Out of the Cold program, guests are welcomed on a first-come, first-served basis, the only criteria being that they agree to follow the basic rules regarding respectful behaviour and that there is evidence of their capacity to do so. Up to 140 guests are served dinner and this number includes some who may have homes but are socially isolated and on very limited income. 50 to 60 people who have no other accommodation sleep overnight on mats. If we’re full, attempts are made to find spots in another program. The majority of our guests are male and range in age from 17 to over 70. For detailed information about our program, please visit our website at http://www.firstinterfaithoutofthecold.com/

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