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HELPERS: Newmarket church’s community meals are 'faith in action'

'The world would fall apart without volunteers,' says Christine Way Skinner of St. John Chrysostom Parish’s weekly low-cost meal program fuelled by donors and volunteers

Every Monday evening, the smell of delicious home-cooked food wafts down Newmarket’s Ontario Street.

That’s because Monday is when St. John Chrysostom Parish, located at 432 Ontario, opens its doors to all in need of a good meal during its weekly community meal, a low-cost program designed to help address food insecurity in the area and beyond.

The meal, which generally attracts around 70 people each week, boasts an ever-changing menu ranging from barbecue to fresh baked goods to “fancier” fare courtesy of the cooks who volunteer their time to help the program.

All ingredients for the meals are donated, with the church relying on a rich community of local businesses and organizations, as well as the generosity of both Catholic church congregations in Newmarket.

Cobs Bread Yonge Green Lane is “at the top” of the program’s supporters, donating all the bread products the church needs each week.

Mercato on Main frequently donates pastries and pasta, while St. John’s own Knights of Columbus host fundraising events several times a year in support of Community Bread.

To reduce food waste, the church also participates in the food rescue program at Second Harvest, which rescues and donates fresh food that would otherwise go to landfill.

If any food goes unused by the church or is not taken home by guests, it is in turn donated to the Newmarket community fridge, ensuring nothing goes to waste.

“The world would fall apart without volunteers,” said Christine Way Skinner, a volunteer and former lay pastoral associate with St. John Chrysostom Parish. “So much depends on volunteers in so many different areas.”

Way Skinner has supported the church’s community meal program for more than 20 years. Alongside dedicated parishioners, she’s seen the program through tough times during the pandemic when volunteers were scarce and has acted as a source of support for meal goers beyond the table.

She’s also made it her mission to spread the spirit of giving to the next generation — encouraging her children to get involved and educated about food insecurity in the area.

“So many of us whine and complain about stuff that doesn’t really matter,” said Way Skinner. “And meanwhile our guests, who don’t even have enough food most of the time and are living on the edge, can say these beautiful moving prayers about being grateful for the support, friendship, and food that they have. It’s really moving.”

Unfortunately, the need for an affordable meal like the one offered by St. John Chrysostom Parish seems to be growing. In recent years, the church has seen a sharp increase in demand for its weekly program.

“With all the food insecurity around, the ability to get a meal becomes a very important aspect in the lives of some people. Some may not have the ability or facility to make a nutritious meal and meal programs, such as the ones in Newmarket, make a big difference to their physical and emotional well-being,” said Chris Steeves, co-ordinator of Community Bread at St. John Chrysostom Parish.

Some volunteers have even have been with the program since it began in 2002 — a testament to the tight-knit community of the church.

“The meal program could not exist without the involvement of community volunteers, both financially and practically,” said Steeves.“For Community Bread on Main, it is truly faith in action.”

Community meals are held every Monday from 4 to 6 p.m. Those interested in volunteering can email [email protected].