Little miracles are what Brother John Frampton said have kept St. Francis Table, a restaurant-style meal service in Parkdale, running for 25 years.
St. Francis Table doesn't have to fight for funds or food as so many soup kitchens and food banks in Toronto do. Instead, Frampton said, they are blessed with generous donations that come from friends and strangers alike. Frampton said he believes that is because St. Francis Table is a street-level, community-based organization, where people can clearly see where their money goes when they make a donation.
"People can walk in and they will see where the money goes," Frampton said.
Frampton, who has run St. Francis Table for the past seven years, recalls an occasion when a film crew was shooting across the street.
One worker with the film crew, after observing Frampton welcoming patrons into the building, approached him and asked what the venue was.
Frampton answered that St. Francis Table is a restaurant for the poor.
"He came in, had a look around and liked what he saw," Frampton recalled. "He said, 'I'll be back in a few minutes.' And came back with a cheque for $500."
Recently, St. Francis Table received a cheque for more than $2,000 with a note indicating the money was to go toward the building's hydro costs. Another donor recently walked in off the street with a cheque for $5,000. "Little miracles", the brother with the Capuchin Franciscan Friars of Central Canada said.
St. Francis Table, a function of the Capuchin Outreach To The Poor, receives no government or United Way funding, relying instead on the generosity of individuals and businesses. Despite this, Barbara Breda, longtime volunteer and member of the St. Francis Table Advisory Board, said, amazingly, the organization always seems to receive all it needs to continue to feed the poor.
"There is a very committed base of donors that keep this place operational," said Breda, who has been volunteering at St. Francis for the past eight years. "That is an important thing that perhaps some other organizations don't have....I also think, from my point of view, because it is a faith-based organization you draw on a group of people who believe in the social justice aspect of it."
The restaurant first opened its doors on Christmas Day in 1987 when, Frampton explained, St. Francis Table served its first $1 meal.
"We didn't want to give Toronto another soup kitchen," Frampton explained. "We wanted a food service ministry that provided a little more dignity and self worth."
Since that first dinner, St. Francis Table has offered its patrons a three-course meal consisting of soup, an entree, dessert and coffee, for just $1. About 250 meals are served each day, over lunch and supper, six days a week. In November 2010 St. Francis Table served its one millionth meal.
St. Francis Table will mark 25 years Christmas Day 2012 and they plan to celebrate this milestone all year.
Volunteers are already sporting new 25th anniversary aprons featuring an image of the building, painted by Edward Kearley, a 20-year-old artist from Conception Bay South, Nfld. Kearley wanted to do something for the anniversary so he painted a streetscape of 1322 Queen St. W.
For the entire year leading up to Christmas, St. Francis Table volunteers will be celebrating by hosting a sponsored meal on the 25th of every month.
"That way the people that come in won't have to pay, it will be free," Breda said.
In fact, Breda and her family are sponsoring the meal on Jan. 25 in honour of her mother's 85th birthday, which falls Jan. 24.
Others have stepped forward to sponsor not only meals on the 25th, but at other points in the upcoming year. One man has sponsored a meal Sept. 11 in honour of a family member who died on that day in 1984.
In the spring or fall, a date hasn't yet been set, St. Francis Table will hold an appreciation day for volunteers, donors, community partners and schools that support the organization.
Also in honour of the 25th anniversary, on Oct. 4, the Feast of St. Francis, Frampton said he hopes to have local Toronto Capuchin-Franciscan Friars at St. Francis Table serving the patrons. Saint Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of ecology.