“Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9).
Every second Friday around noon, there is a flurry of meaningful activity at St. Thomas Anglican Church in Thunder Bay, Ont. Tables are sent up, a barbecue is started and the doors of the church are opened wide.
About 50 people come for a free and delicious lunch; they are also offered a bag of nutritious food and encouraged to visit rooms in the church where they can pick out clothing, pet supplies and toys.
St. Thomas has shifted its purpose, from teaching Christian education to hundreds of local children in the Thunder Bay community of Westfort to reaching out to those in need.
Established in 1887 as a mission of the diocese of Algoma, the first church was built in 1890 and rebuilt twice after two fires in the early to mid-1900s. Church attendance soared and a Christian education centre with multiple classrooms for Sunday school children was built beside the church.
Over the past decades, however, attendance at Sunday school declined significantly. Most of the classrooms in the centre were closed and became storage rooms. It would have been so easy to lament the good old days and to yearn for hundreds of children to return to Sunday morning worship and Christian education. It would have been so easy to throw up one’s hands and say that everything had been tried. Instead, the parishioners and their rector, the Rev. Doug McClure, started to pray about God’s purpose for their parish community. They believed that God was leading them to help people in need, to feed the hungry, provide basic necessities and to be a voice for those in need. They decided to develop a Family Giving Centre, using the empty Christian education classrooms.
The people at St. Thomas moved from lament to hope and opportunities. Several classrooms have been put to use for food and toy cupboards, housewares and clothing for men, women and children. There is even a pet boutique. The rooms are clean, bright, attractive and stocked with care.
The congregation is involved through donations of food, time, clothing and money. In addition, several clients have become volunteers. Chef Tim Chadukiewich cooks the free community lunches. He started to come to the Family Giving Centre a couple of years ago, and now volunteers for the lunches. Chef Tim said that there is “joy in helping and giving back.”
Janis Barker, food cupboard co-ordinator, recalled that around 300 children used to attend Sunday school. While saddened by the number of people in need, Barker said she is heartened by the willingness of many others to help.
Lesley McClure, who is in charge of the “pet boutique,” said it was “humbling to see the need and that it is hard to keep up.”
Kim, a client at the centre, said that the help she has received “has made it possible for me to have and create a home, to be safe and no longer afraid.” She added: “Thank you all for all you do for our community. You uplift me, and you have given me hope in my darkest hours.”
In addition to the Family Giving Centre, the church provides healthy snacks for school children and backpacks with school supplies.
-The Ven. Deborah Kraft, archdeacon of Thunder Bay, Anglican diocese of Algoma, contributed this piece.