The hot lunch program hosted by Zion United Church every Monday, in partnership the John Howard Society, has far exceeded expectations.

Volunteers have served 1,350 meals at the downtown church since the program began last October. About 1,000 hot lunches have also been served at St. Andrew's United Church on Thursday's. The budget for the food is provided by the John Howard Society's My Place Program.

"It became more than I originally had planned or dreamed on, but it has gone very, very well," remarked Zion's Reverend Tim Ellis. "We've been able to provide the hot meals every Monday here at Zion and Thursday at St. Andrew's [United Church]. We've had a great network of people who have come together to make sure that there's sandwiches every day to be handed out at John Howard on those weekdays when we aren't able to provide a hot lunch. It's become more than I ever dreamed it would be."

The sandwich network includes teams from Zion United Church, St. Andrew's United Church, Central Lutheran Church, and Minto United Church. The sandwich network has prepared about 13,000 sandwiches for the John Howard Society since last October. Additionally, 11,000 eight-ounce servings of soup have also been delivered.

Clothes DonationClothes donations have been made available at the church

Jody Oakes, manager of justice programming and branch services at the John Howard Society, says the response has been amazing.

"It is not what we expected at all. We thought we'd have maybe a couple months of meals, maybe 20 or 30 people at our meals, but it grew into so much more than that. It grew into other churches coming on board and creating a sandwich program and being able to have two hot meals per week and that's gone until now and we're at June. It's really exceeded our expectations. It's been amazing."

Ellis says when they first started the hot lunch program it was meant to be only temporary, but has grown into something much more. Ellis notes they were averaging about 35 people last fall and are now serving more than 60 every week. About a dozen volunteers show up every week to prepare, serve, and clean up. Some of people who are being served have also started to help out. While John Howard has the 'My Place' Program, Ellis says volunteers have dubbed their initiative as the 'Our Place' Program.

Brenda Humphry is one of the volunteers who donates her time every week.

"It's almost spiritual coming in on a Monday and spending time with these ladies and gentlemen. There's a real camaraderie," she said. "The relationship with the clients is one that I can't even hardly explain. I'm ashamed to say that I might have just walked by these people on the street before I did this and now I stop and say hello or I'll just smile or nod and you find out that these people are people and they have families and they have needs and their story always isn't a bad one. It's just they caught themselves in a bad place. To be able to get to know them and to understand it certainly helps in not being judgmental."

She encourages anyone who's been thinking about it to put their name in as a volunteer.

Oakes wanted to express her thanks to the volunteers.

"When we looked at the very beginning of October until now, the volunteers will tell you that these people are like their family and our people will tell you, they're like their family. We've lost a few people in the last couple of months in our community and having those volunteers to be able to sit with our people and have conversation about that. It's just so important and these volunteers at our churches have been helping. They're so kind to our people and you can tell they really want to do it. They're doing it from their heart and with lots of love. We're just so thankful and grateful for them."

Zion Memorial CornerZion United Church has established a Memorial Corner to remember unhoused individuals who have recently passed away

Both Zion and St. Andrew's will be pausing their hot lunch programs for the months of July and August with plans to start up again in the fall. Sandwiches/bag lunches will continue to be available for pickup at the John Howard Society office located at 15 Hochelaga St. W. in Moose Jaw. The churches will also be sending over clothing that people can pick up during the summer months.

Ellis says the Monday gathering means much more to people than just a free meal.

"They feel welcome and respected and it's a place they can come and feel safe and just gather like they can't in many other places. They can all come together as their own community of people on the streets and the housing insecure and they seem to just really appreciate it. They are so respectful of us and what we offer and I think for them it's become even more, or just as important, as a place to gather in community, as it is to get the food."

Jenna Lyle is one of the many people who attend the weekly gathering.

"It's family, it's like a second home almost," she exclaimed. "People that care about you and they help you no matter what situation you're in. They'll always love you. It's a big part of my life."

Ellis added that the relationships that volunteers build with the My Place clients extend well beyond the walls of the downtown church.

"They'll see each other in the street, they'll check on each other. The volunteers will ask how it's going. The folks approach our people on the street because they recognize they're somebody they can say hi to and feel like they're respected. They won't have people shy away from them or don't want to talk to them. They genuinely feel like we're a part of their community as well, which is a real wonderful thing to experience," he concluded.

Below is a list of meals available in the month of June (Provided by Square One):

mj food strategy