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Local church serves over 1,000 free meals a week

‘We never turn people away because we never run out of food,’ said Father Toby Collins
Tiny Home Takeout
Father Toby Collins

Every Tuesday through Saturday, a small group of dedicated volunteers serve free hot meals from the tiny home outside St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Kitchener.

A typical meal is a personal pizza, a large cup of stew, chilli, gourmet soup, or Italian pasta. “Always served with a fresh piece of focaccia,” said Father Toby Collins. On average, 250 meals are served each night.

Tiny Home Takeout was inspired by the triumph of Lot 42’s “A Better Tent City.”

“The owner of Lot 42, Ron [Doyle], showed us how much it meant to offer people without homes the choice to live in a community with a tiny home of their own,” said Collins. “The homes began to represent a new start and a feeling of being at home with others.”

The meals are free, donations are accepted but not expected. “We never turn people away because we never run out of food. The odd time we will only have the bite of the day available just before closing. Other than that, we are well stocked and ready to serve.

“The start-up costs were paid for by parishioners and partner organizations like the Diocese of Hamilton. Ongoing costs are being paid for by donations from people eating at Tiny Home Takeout, private donations, and donations made by foundations such as the Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation and the Catholic Community Foundation of Waterloo Region.”

Chef Amy Cyr runs the kitchen, and Outreach Coordinator Tony Stortz takes care of everything else.

“The greatest obstacle we face is that people with means don’t want to eat the food because they think it is only for those who are in need of it. By visiting, we break down barriers created by economic disparity."

“I’m not sure that people living more comfortably realize just how much their presence means to someone who has been told in one way or another that their life doesn’t matter.”

Collins has led a lifetime of doing unto others. Growing up with six siblings, his parents modelled the behaviours they expected from their children: treat others as you wish to be treated and leave things better than you received them.

“[The] Church always intrigued me growing up . . . I always felt at home at church because I felt loved there and believed that God really wanted what was best for us all even though we may not see at times,” he said.

It took until his mid-twenties to commit to the priesthood. “The fit was a natural one where I felt confident about the fit but perplexed about how I would live the rest of my life without a wife and children,” he admitted.

He had won enough “gold stars” in his lifetime and began to ask “what life was really all about.” After meeting three priests living at St. Louis Church in Waterloo who had a “common desire to do good,” he was inspired.

“Unlike most of the people I knew, they lived simply and found great meaning and joy in helping others,” he recalled.

His gift of bringing “calm to tense situations” led him to commit to the priesthood; dedicating himself to “offering hope for people in despair.”

Tiny Home Takeout will continue for a few years. “We like to do things at St. Mary’s in three-year cycles,” he added. After the term, they plan to reassess and measure if the community is continuing to benefit. “If not, we will meet new needs in new ways."

To continue to offer the free meals, more volunteers and donations are needed. Visit www.tinyhometakeout.com for more information.

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