A warm relationship between an Anglican outreach program in Toronto and a local residents association has resulted in a generous financial gift that will help the program serve the community for years to come.
The Common Table, a drop-in run by Church of the Redeemer, Bloor St., will receive $500,000 over the next five years. The gift is being facilitated by the ABC Residents Association, a volunteer organization that is committed to enhancing the quality of life in the neighbourhood.
The first installment of $250,000 was made during a cheque presentation at the church on March 21, with members of the church, the outreach program and the residents association in attendance.
“We are so grateful,” says Angie Hocking, director of outreach at the church. “Gifts like this not only affirm the direction of new and creative work, but they also let you relax and start to plan. It’s already had an incredible impact on our program.”
The Common Table has been helping homeless and marginalized people in the neighbourhood around the church for the past 30 years. It currently prepares food for between 60 and 100 people per day, five days a week. It also provides a resting space, activities like a movie group and a book club, counselling and nursing.
During the pandemic, the program also started using “outreach carts” to bring food and other supplies to those in need, an innovative service that it hopes to continue with the help of the new funds.
The relationship between The Common Table and the ABC Residents Association started several years ago, when a member of the association noticed the work that the program was doing and wanted to learn more. Ms. Hocking was eventually invited to speak at the group’s annual general meeting, and some residents began dropping off donations.
“The friendship grew organically,” she recalls.
The residents association held a couple of its annual general meetings at the church, further strengthening ties between the two groups. Food for the meetings was prepared by people in the outreach program.
Along the way, Ms. Hocking also helped local business owners and employees learn about the issues surrounding poverty and homelessness. She provided advice on how to assist homeless and marginalized people when they came into their stores. “They were curious and wanted to be helpful,” she says of the owners and employees. “Many didn’t know The Common Table existed and were glad to recommend our services.”
The Common Table has received financial gifts over the years, but none as big as the latest one. Ms. Hocking was shocked when the residents association informed her of the amount. The money is coming from a real estate developer who wishes to remain anonymous. The developer wanted to invest in the community, and the residents association recommended giving the gift to The Common Table.
Ms. Hocking says the money will be used to deepen The Common Table’s engagement with those in need in the neighbourhood. Some possibilities include hiring a new staff person, buying more supplies and creating new resources. The outreach carts will likely continue. “They were a stopgap at first, but now they’re the lifeblood of what we do. It’s proved to be a very effective way of connecting with the community and building relationships.”
She says churches are in a time when they have to be creative and innovative. “If we want to be relevant, for me it means always orienting ourselves to the poor and asking, what is the need in our community and how can we respond to that? At Redeemer, we’re in one of the richest neighbourhoods in Canada, but you still have to ask that question. It means serving the poor but also educating people and finding ways to bring them into the story. That’s how our relationship with the ABC Residents Association grew. It was because of caring, compassionate people in the neighbourhood who wanted to engage with us, and we opened the door a bit, and we kept going.”