The Gathering Place’s motto, ‘kindness wanted,’ is never more compelling than at Christmas
Students and staff at Frank Roberts Junior High in Foxtrap organized what they called a Passion Project, raising $2,850 (and rising) so students could prepare cards and stockings for guests at The Gathering Place in St. John’s.
The gifts would be given out on December 19th at the Christmas Dinner as well as on Christmas Eve. The purpose of the school’s Passion Project? To demonstrate compassion and hope for those in need.
When The Herald reached out to Paul Davis, Executive Director at The Gathering Place, he shared that his team and those who benefit from the kindness of others, were very grateful for such efforts especially at Christmas.
“This is a very busy time and with the weather changing it creates more challenges. The challenges change as the seasons change, as you can imagine,” he began.
Colder weather means the needs “are shifting” and having access to shelter and warm clothing becomes part of the focus, he added. But, Davis continued, “The Gathering Place has become a very busy place throughout the year, and the demand for services continues to grow over the last number of years.”
There may be a notion that there’s no homelessness or hunger or need throughout NL because of the way we are as a people – naturally giving – but that’s not the case.
“There are also people who are housed, but it is precariously housed, meaning they live in less than ideal housing arrangements. That exists in Newfoundland, Labrador,” he said.
Aiding those in need
The history of The Gathering Place goes back to the establishment of the Presentation Sisters and Sisters of Mercy back in the early 1800s, Davis continued.
“They made it their mission for so many years to assist those in need and to help with food and nourishment and the very basics of life’s needs.”
When the denominational education system was reorganized in the 90s, things changed as congregations began working together. “Making a pot of soup or a pot of stew or something a couple times a week to feed those in need was really the start of The Gathering Place but since then, it’s grown,” he said.
There was an understanding that there were needs for nourishment, yes, but also for other services and programs.
“I quite often say, The Gathering Place is so much more than a soup kitchen. We’ve grown into a social space for one thing. We have case managers, and they deal with individual matters pertaining to income support, housing or, I should say, lack of housing challenges. They deal with referrals to deal with mental health and addictions. Sometimes people have legal issues, and it doesn’t have to be criminal. It could be property issues or the passing of a close family relative, and they have some legal matters that need to get sorted out.” Any personal areas where people sometimes need extra help, the case managers are there. Having a close relationship with Eastern Health has helped, he added. From dental services provided from a state-of-the-art dental clinic (at no cost) to music and art and empowerment programs, The Gathering Place is there to help “our most vulnerable and marginalized citizens,” Davis said. Shower facilities. Laundry facilities. Anything that can help “normalize” life is so important, Davis shared.
‘A major operation’
“Most recently added to The Gathering Place was a shelter, which was added in October 2020. It’s designed for short visits, but unfortunately, far too often guests end up staying longer than expected or staying longer than what’s ideal because of circumstances.”
If people want to give time, money, clothing or food; what is it that is required this time of year?
“All of that’s important. We have about 250 volunteers who are regular volunteers and they come once a week and several of them come more than once a week. They help out primarily in our kitchen and our dining room. Our kitchen is producing about 3,000 meals a week right now, and we provide breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, 365 days a year. So it’s a major operation,” he said.
Such efforts come with a cost so financial support is important, he added. So is volunteer support. Many groups, organizations or companies will come in and assist in the dining room, especially this time of year, Davis shared, and such support is always welcome. Ocean Choice International, for instance, provides fish for their Friday meals.
The Gathering Place “greatly appreciates everybody who makes donations,” Davis added, but space is limited.
Right now, they are interested in receiving “specific items that will assist in cold weather. Coats and gloves and those kinds of things,” Davis shared.
Anyone who would like to help can donate right on the website, kindnesswanted.ca, or they can call the office at 709-753-3234. There’s also a growing social media presence too via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, Davis added.
The most important thing to remember? Kindness matters. It doesn’t matter what time of year, Davis added.
“In 2014 there were 400 registered guests. By 2019 that grew to 900. Today there are 2,000 registered guests and an estimated 1,000-plus unregistered, so the need is great.”