Every week, The Salvation Army’s Bloor Central Corps in Toronto hosts a community meal and invites anyone interested in an evening of eating and conversation. But there’s nothing ordinary about them.
Rather, Major Doug Hammond, Bloor Central pastor, strives to create a welcoming environment where those with no place to go can feel accepted.
“We want to build connections with people,” Major Doug says. “We try to learn their names, look them in the eyes, greet them personally and make this interaction as personable as possible.”
Though the act of sharing a meal is simple, it can give hope to those who are lonely or down on their luck. “One of the most difficult parts of being homeless is the isolation and seclusion,” says Major Doug. “Even if you are in a room full of people, if you have no connection with anyone, it can be very lonely.”
With more than 250 meals being served each week, Major Doug and his wife, co-pastor Major Karen Hammond, along with volunteers, ensure that every individual who walks through the doors of Bloor Central are treated with dignity and respect. At every community meal, you can see Major Doug and volunteers sitting at the tables with guests, making connections and creating relationships.
What makes Bloor Central’s community meals special is that they operate on a policy of complete acceptance. Regardless of a guest’s beliefs or economic means, their mission is to provide nourishing food and a listening ear in a welcoming space.
Just Like Home
On one brisk evening, Lt-Colonel Sandra Rice, divisional commander, Ontario Central-East Division, visited Bloor Central to volunteer.
“I saw that many people who entered this building knew each other—it is community at its best. It was beautiful,” she explains. Major Doug notes that the main groups of individuals who attend the community meals are either the lonely or those with mental illness, but no matter the reason that brought them to Bloor Central, they are all treated the same.
“I couldn’t help but be impressed and inspired by the effort that the staff and volunteers go through to engage face-to-face with those who come for a meal, recognizing that this is such an opportune time to extend friendship as well as share Jesus’ love,” says Lt-Colonel Sandra.
The Salvation Army believes that everybody deserves a safe place to live, food to eat and a second chance at life. The way that Major Doug and his team at Bloor Central treat their guests show that we all need to rethink the way we view mental illness, homelessness and poverty. Those experiencing homelessness are some of the most vulnerable members in our society and they deserve support and compassion.
“We want to serve our guests the best meal possible and treat them like they’re at home,” concludes Major Doug. “They are like family and there will always be a place set at our table for our friends from the community.”