Michael has been running the Saturday Breakfast Program at St. Stephen-in-the-Fields for years. As the Canadian weather turns colder, the need for a warm place to gather and share a meal increases.
People start lining up at 7:00am on Saturday mornings for breakfast at St. Stephen-in-the-Fields in downtown Toronto. The line-up can be very long, and guests are waiting in the cold and snow. We joke with them that we’re not a fast-food joint!
Inside, warmth and friendly conversation await them, along with scrambled eggs, ham, toast, coffee and buns.
Who Eats Breakfast at St. Stephen-in-the-Fields?
A very diverse group of people come to St. Stephen’s for breakfast. Some of our guests are experiencing homelessness, sleeping perhaps on the streets or in a shelter such as the Scott Mission. Some walk for an hour or more to get to the breakfast.
Others are people on fixed incomes, or welfare, or disability . Some are people who have lost their jobs or have been “downsized”. Some have advanced education; some are immigrants working at low-wage jobs. Some have addictions.
Our guests are refugees, students, people with mental illnesses, pensioners, people whose businesses have failed, people who have had really bad luck or a breakdown of some sort, people arriving in Toronto looking for work, people who just got out of jail … a diverse and interesting group.
“Alexei” came to the breakfast for a year. Alexei lost his job as a tradesman after developing colon cancer. He lived in his van in a rented garage, trying to cope with what had happened to his life.
Alexei’s life was very difficult. He relied on public washrooms for his hygiene regimen. Can you imagine? He was a very kind and gentle guy, always appreciative of the breakfast and staying to help with cleanup. And then, we didn’t see him anymore.
The Breakfast was started by an Evangelical minister, it takes place in an Anglican Church and is largely staffed by volunteers from the Catholic school system, and one independent school, Bayview Glen. Over the course of a year, 400 students and 20 teachers volunteer at the Breakfast, arriving in the early hours of the morning to prepare the space, cook the food, and serve it to our guests.
In the last 35 years there has been growing income disparity in Canada. In Toronto this has meant that there is increasing segregation between the haves, the have-some-want-mores, and the have-nots.
The distance between social classes in Toronto is a serious concern. Toronto is home to the largest number of high income people in Canada – and, concomitantly, the gap between the rich and the poor is greater here than anywhere else in the country.
It is not healthy for a society to have these divisions. It leads to stereotyping on all sides, mistrust and social conflict. The rich think of the poor as lazy and undisciplined; the poor think of the rich as callous snobs.
One way to bridge the gap is to connect the “haves” with the “have-nots”. At the Breakfast, teachers and students are exposed to a diverse group of low-income people. This in itself has merit. It does not address the structural nature of the problem, but it is an important step nonetheless.
It costs about $6000 per year to provide approximately 6000 breakfasts. This money is donated by volunteers and friends of the Breakfast. In addition, twice each winter our guests can select from our free “store.” They can go shopping, selecting gloves, socks, underwear and hats – choosing the items that best serve their needs.
As the cold weather sets in, and the holidays approach, please think of those experiencing hard times and perhaps, find a way to reach out a lending hand.
To learn more about St. Stephen-in-the-Fields, please visit their charity profile page>>>