In the days leading up to Christmas, the Followers Mission in downtown Toronto took to Moss Park to ensure some of downtown Toronto’s most vulnerable residents could enjoy a hot holiday meal.
“The food’s really good and definitely welcome this time of year,” said one recipient who identified himself only as Doug. “Especially since I live in the Sally Ann (Salvation Army Hostel) right across the street and I can’t cook in my room.”
The mission, which is based out of a small space across Sherbourne Street from Moss Park, served up turkey and all the trimmings to hundreds of people with help from a variety of churches throughout the GTA.
“There are so many churches around the City of Toronto who want to help the poor and marginalized,” said Followers Mission volunteer June Hodgson. “We’ve seen this event help transform the lives of some of the people who are living on the street.”
The mission uses the dinner to help in its outreach, which focuses on faith-based teachings while offering drop-in help, meals and other necessities to the homeless and underhoused.
At the Tuesday Dec. 18 dinner, guests enjoyed a meal and live music. Volunteers handed out gift packages with socks, hats, gloves, other clothing and personal hygiene items. Hodgson noted the mission is able to give out food and other goods largely through the generosity of its downtown Toronto neighbours.
“We have people all over the community bringing us cakes to make sure there was dessert for the people tonight,” she said. “There’s a women’s shelter in downtown Toronto who helps us out because they get a lot of small samples of shampoo and the women they serve have families and need bigger (bottles of shampoo). The small ones are perfect for the people we reach out to.”
The mission was founded 20 years ago by Young Wha Kang, who came down to Moss Park to feed those in need. Over the years, it has grown by adding multiple volunteers, some of whom have been helped off the street with support from the mission. While the volunteers note they aim to spread their faith, their work is vital in downtown Toronto.
“I was in Africa doing missionary work and my heart was broken,” said Petra Drnovscek, who is leading the mission on an interim basis while Kang is on sabbatical. “I thought, ‘who’s going to do this in Toronto?’”
The meal brought hundreds of people together, as has typically been the case. Over the years, the mission’s Christmas feast has traditionally fed between 200 and 300 people.