The Mission started with one table and a few chairs, all dilapidated, and donated to us by a church. For the first few years, the whole community would fit around this one table. The friendships started at this table have continued to be part of our lives ever since. Since those early years, we have added ten more tables. They are now round.
Table fellowship has always been a key element of the life of St. John’s. Over the years, the focus has been on different meals at differing times of the day.
The breakfast program was started a number of years ago by Joanna, one of the members of our community, who noticed that people were on the street, cold and hungry in the early hours of the day.
The first years, we were open only during the winter season, part of the 'Out of the Cold' initiative of the city. Now we continue the breakfast program all through the year.
Breakfast is served Tuesday to Saturday, starting at 5 a.m. At this time, it is the only place in the city where people who have spent the night outside can come in for warmth and food at these early hours. We can serve up to 120 people per day, and some wait outside as early as 4:30 a.m. to get inside. Many people who come at this time of day, are living in tents or on the street.
We have a social worker and trained staff, as well as volunteers, who are available to help with any issue that people may seek help with. That trust, built over the many years, allows us to reach out to people, who for the most part are outside of any social programs.
We are always looking for community volunteers. Those who help out always mention what a positive experience it has been for them to meet the people we serve.
St. John the Compassionate Mission is associated with Community Food Centres Canada, as a ‘Good Food Organization.’
The Mission began with children. Children and families are part of what this community understands and embraces.
O·W·L Youth Camps are joint ventures between St. John’s Mission, Good Neighbours and St. Mary of Egypt Refuge. They are not a ‘church camp,’ as traditionally understood. Children come from the city as well as from surrounding rural area.The Youth Camps are an integral part of the work of the Mission. The camp includes learning how to canoe and survive in the wilderness. The sheep,goats and donkey and chickens are all part of the camp and the children learn to respect animals not as pets but as helpers in creation.l Arts ,drama and theatre play a big part of the OWL camp experience. Included is the daily prayer in the forest chapel. Meals are prepared from local produce that we grow ourselves and are mostly cooked over an open fire. Subsides are available so that no child who wants to come to camp is turned away.
Families with Children Camp — As of 2020, one week at the camp is set aside for families to attend camp together. During this time, parents and children can attend sports and theatre, and educational and spiritual activities.
Kids Klub — Initially based at 155 Broadview, it is now at Good Neighbours in Scarborough. It’s for kids who want to make new friends, and are interested in cooking. Kids Klub meets on Saturdays at Good Neighbours, which is at 193 Markham Road, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Many of the children who come to this activity are newcomers and from many different ethic backgrounds. Volunteers to help run ‘the Klub’are always needed. As is normal at the Mission, anyone working with children is required to have a police check.
The Moms and Tots program is part of the mandate of the new Mission in Scarborough to reach out to families and children. Where we are now, there is no drop-in for mothers, so for now we are open every Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., as a drop-in for moms and their children. It is a very mixed group of people from different parts of the world, and very different religious sensibilities. The ‘Moms and Tots’ group not only provides respite for mothers, it also provides a place for neighbours to meet. Many are there because they come from such different cultural backgrounds, they would probably never interact elsewhere.
Food for Families — We provide fresh and dry foods for families with children every Thursday from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Work has always been understood as a basic human need, and not only an economic necessity. It is part of the ‘beautiful witness’ of the Mission to restore this sense of work as part of the art and poetry of what it means to be human.
In this sense, our value for work at the Mission is counter-cultural, and bread-making, as hard as it is, best suits this witness. St. John’s Bakery (153 Broadview Avenue, 416-850-7413) needs to keep a healthy balance between meeting its own expenses and its ‘social mandate‘ to help and integrate marginalized people. The Bakery is always seeking ways to integrate its work into the life of the Mission as a whole. The Bakery is therefore animated by the same spirit of humility and sense of importance of community as the Mission.
St. John’s Thrift Store (2155 Danforth Avenue, 416-698-9848, firstname.lastname@example.org) shares with the Bakery a common understanding of the value of work as a basic human need. Although both require a certain degree of professionalism in their operation, the place of the person is at the heart of both. The Thrift Store offers job-training opportunities in the retail trade. It also offers to those with low incomes the possibility of buying quality items at modest prices, or in some circumstances for free. The Thrift Store also offers direct contact with the Mission for its customers and volunteers in a different part of the city.
St. John the Compassionate Mission was one of the very first non-profit organization to adopt the social enterprise business model. It is also one of the most successful social enterprises in Canada.