Lunch program treats hungry Montrealers as welcome guests

On the last Sunday of each month, as welfare money runs out, more than 250 people are served a generous hot lunch in Christ Church Cathedral’s Fulford Hall. There are other lunch programs for the needy in Montreal, but what makes this one special is the way the guests are treated. They are greeted with a handshake at the door, seated at tables family-style with volunteer “hosts”, served with china and glass, and drawn into conversation with table mates. When the hall fills up, those who can’t be accommodated can get a takeaway box.

Christ Church Cathedral lunch program
Marjorie Sharp started the monthly lunch program by giving out sandwiches on the lawn of the cathedral.

The Last-Sunday-of-the-Month lunch started out about 30 years ago, with Marjorie Sharp and her companions giving out some sandwiches to about half a dozen homeless people on the cathedral grounds. It has now grown into a regular, self-supporting community service.

According to the current organizer, Adrian King-Edwards, local private schools have taken over the hosting duties and join church volunteers in waiting on tables. “Each month,” he explains, “one school sends 8 to 10 parents and students, who are assigned to each table in pairs. The parent acts as ‘host’ or ‘mother’, making sure everyone is served and making conversation with the guests.  Mazon Canada, Lower Canada College, Centennial College and ECS (Miss Edgar’s and Miss Cramp’s School) are regular supporters. The champion is Selwyn House. Carol Manning there has been organizing lunch volunteers for years.”

Schools or individual parents also usually sponsor the lunches, and sponsors are now lined up two to three months in advance. Feeding the whole group costs only $600, owing to kind suppliers and the frugal and careful shopping of volunteer chef John McLean. Adrian smiles as he says, “He makes me drive miles and miles so we can get the cheapest lettuce!”

Chirst Church Cathedral Lunch Program
John McLean, Chef of the cathedral last Sunday of the month lunch program.

If I have food, they eat
A retired chef with 50 years’ experience, John heads up the kitchen every month—he can’t recall for how many years. “I’ve been doing this so long,” he says, “I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have it.” Juice and vegetables are prepared first thing in the morning by John’s son Troy and his girlfriend Georgia, who also make sure food gets into the oven on time.

While they are prepping inside, guests start lining up outside to get tickets. Marjorie Sharp, still busy at every lunch, hands them out. “When we get to about 140,” she explains, “inside seating is closed and the rest of the people get take-out.” The take-out recipients usually number about 60–70, but they have occasionally run to 100.

Guests, mostly on welfare, many homeless, have traditionally been men, but Adrian and Marjorie have noticed an increase in the proportion of women, as well as more Native people and more immigrants. In fact, they have noticed an increase in numbers overall.

Adrian notes that “take-outs have doubled over the past couple of years”. But as long as the food lasts, everyone gets fed. As John puts it, “If I have food, they eat.” He’ll even feed pets. “If John’s serving shepherd’s pie,” says Marjorie, “the dogs get shepherd’s pie like everyone else.”

Christian Hospitality, Cathedral Style
One of the most important and best-known Christian values is feeding the hungry. But the lunch project is about more than that. It serves to get the cathedral congregation more involved with the community, as a link between those who need help and those wanting to give it. It’s an attractive activity for new members of the congregation who may want to get involved in something that is useful and enjoyable without involving a major time commitment. Finally, it has acted as a catalyst to a much-needed, self-supporting social service.

Adrian King-Edwards, who currently runs the program, says guests consider it the best lunch in town.

Adrian calls the lunch project “one of those wonderful cathedral projects that has been started by us but then picked up and sustained by other people in the community. We can now focus our efforts on other projects. For instance, we are now planning to support a refugee family.”

The original purpose of the meal, however, has not been lost along the way, as its beneficiaries will attest. According to Adrian, “The guys will tell you they consider this the best lunch in town.”

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