A Report

St Kevin's Social Ministries Conversation

November 21, 2007

St. Vincent de Paul / Harvest Kitchen I Food Bank / Habitat for Humanity / Social Justice Committee

Background re: A CONVERSATION

A Conversation. What is meant is this: It is time to have a conversation on our outreach to those who need our parish assistance. As a parish and as ministries within the parish who serve the poor, our Social Audit of April 2006, was very helpful. In a sense, the Social Audit was the beginning of a conversation that we must keep going. It is now close to 18 months since we did the original research for the Social Audit and 15 months since we published the Social Audit. At our recent Social Justice Committee meeting, the Committee agreed that it was time to have a "check-in / update" session.

The point of a conversation is to share our experience in ministering to those in need. One large question for our social ministries: Are things getting better or worse? What is "our read" on the social situation as it affects the poor? For example, numbers can tell us a lot: St. Vincent de Paul visits? Food Bank users? And while it will still be early, Harvest Kitchen clients?

And then - we can share our needs. For our ministry and work with the poor: What do we need? How can we help each other? How can we connect more with Hope Centre and Open Arms Mission?

It is important to have this "conversation" at this time for a couple of reasons:

  1. We are sometimes asked by city people what St. Kevin's is doing now? How is the situation with the poor? What do we think? I know that we are doing a lot with our different groups – St. Vincent de Paul / Food Bank / Harvest Kitchen / Habitat for Humanity / Social Justice Committee. It is important to have a comprehensive and unified picture of what we are doing.
  2. It would be great to have some relevant data so that we can update the parish before our Share Advent collection that will take place on the First Sunday of Advent, December 2nd.


The Shape of the Conversation

  1. Begin as soon as we can after Harvest Kitchen - Wednesday November 21 - 7:30 p.m. - Parish Hall.
  2. Have representatives from each group - 4 or 5 persons from each of our parish ministries-St. Vincent de Paul / Harvest Kitchen / Food Bank / Habitat for Humanity (Tim Donohue from our Pastoral Council) / Social Justice Committee. Actually, if more want to be in attendance, great!
  3. Members of the Social Justice Committee will lead the Conversation.
  4. Please do some talking beforehand around the following questions and be ready to give a brief report-your part of the conversation.

A Report on that Conversation

Note: The following report is based on the conversation that took place among 20 persons from St. Kevin's social ministries. Their observations and analysis are reinforced by recent reporting on poverty in the Welland Tribune and the CBC on-line news-service. Contributing to the Report are: Wendy Arscott, Nancy Riou and JoAnne Miani. Father Jim Mulligan, CSC authored the Report.

How do you read the social environment affecting the poor and those in need over the last 18 months? What has changed? Updates on numbers - visits / Food Bank use / and clients at Harvest Kitchen.

There is a definite negative tone to the interpretation of the social environment over the last number of months. This is the experience of our St. Kevin's social ministries as well as those who serve at Hope Centre and Open Arms Mission.

  • The poor still feel that they wear the stigma of poverty. They feel unaccepted because of their poverty.
  • Social Assistance does not meet the needs of people.
  • Food Bank use has increased at Hope Centre and at St. Kevin's, and individual and family food needs are greater this year.
  • More families with children frequent Harvest Kitchen and need food for lunches at schools.
  • Some older teens and young adults are now present at Harvest Kitchen and the Food Bank.
  • About 20% of clients to Harvest Kitchen and to our food bank are persons with some disability.
  • St. Kevin's St. Vincent de Paul averages around 50 calls a month. Increasingly, the need is not only for food but financial requests for rent and for utility bills and prescription medicine charges.
  • Newcomers to Canada continue to find it difficult to find work. Affordable housing and shelter continue to be huge needs.
  • For some, there is a transportation problem in getting to Food Banks.
  • Note well: For all of our groups - St. Vincent de Paul, Harvest Kitchen and Food Bank - there is a pressing need for volunteers. This is acutely so for St. Vincent de Paul visits to homes or shelters.
  • Due to the generosity of our parishioners and the contributions of our Catholic schools, St. Kevin's Food Bank is able to serve our clients well. But the trend in Ontario is not so happy. A recent report notes that: many food banks must purchase food because the local community cannot provide enough food; many local communities no longer have the capacity to meet the needs of their local food bank; food banks are suffering for a lack of volunteer workers; an increasing number of clients to food banks do have work but the wage is not sufficient; almost 40% of all served by food banks in Ontario are children.

But there are some positives, as well.

  • There is Food Bank coordination between Hope Centre and Open Arms Mission and the Salvation Army.
  • Much of the success of the St. Kevin's Food Bank is attributed to the ongoing awareness and generosity of parishioners in bringing food to our bins and the consistent food drive contribution of the Catholic schools in the parish.
  • Some feel valued because of growing public awareness and action on behalf of the poor - e.g. Know Poverty.
  • Thanks to St. Vincent de Paul, Food Bank clients at St. Kevin's now receive bread and milk. Thanks to the generosity of some caring people, fresh vegetables are sometimes available.
  • Some refugees have been able to move to larger centres where they call find work.
  • The merger of St. Kevin's Food Bank with St. Vincent de Paul has been very beneficial for the Food Bank. St. Vincent de Paul has assumed the financial needs of the Food Bank, which is a great help.
  • St. Vincent de Paul in Welland-here at St. Kevin's and also groups at St. Mary's Parish and St. Andrew's Parish and the "St. Vincent de Paul Store", continues to be a very effective "server" of the poor.
  • Local businesses have lent their financial support to St. Kevin's Food Bank - for example Santo's Pizzeria, through a promotion during the month of October.


What can you tell us about "child poverty"? What to tell us about women? Single moms? Do you see a feminine face to poverty in our area?

Here are some responses:

  • Almost 40% of food bank users are children or teens under 19 years of age.
  • Children are being trapped in the cycle of poverty and often experience health problems such as obesity, asthma and behavioural issues.
  • One in six Canadian children now live in poverty. The sad fact is that the rate of child poverty is the same in 2007 as it was in 1989 when the House of Commons unanimously voted to end child poverty by the year 2000.
  • Issues for single mothers: trying to maintain a job and having the necessary finances for daycare.
  • St. Vincent de Paul visits: to an increasing number of senior women; almost 50% of visits are to single mothers.
  • Child Poverty Indicators: In the city there are school breakfast programs at several public schools, as well as at St. Andrew School, St. Mary School and St. Augustine School.
  • The fastest growing segment of the poor are parents in low-wage jobs. 15% of the families in Niagara earn less than $20,000 a year. We are seeing more such families in line at the Food Bank and coming to Harvest Kitchen. There is not enough money to get them through to the end of each month.
What are the most pressing needs for those you serve - employment I transportation I shelter I living wage I etc.? What can we do better with more cooperation among our social ministries? How can the parish Share Advent fund help your ministry?

The following were identified as pressing needs:

  • A living wage for those who have work to help them get out of the poverty cycle;\
  • iteracy skills and job-training skills;
  • Bus passes for transportation;
  • Drug and alcohol rehabilitation;
  • Employment;
  • Reasonably priced [i.e., affordable] shelter;
  • More volunteers to help serve our clients;
  • The ongoing need to remember that each person matters. Each person has a name;
  • The Hispanic community in Welland is without pastoral care. What can we do here at St. Kevin's? In the past there has been a request for mentoring and language learning. How can we help?
  • Advocacy on behalf of the poor with various levels of government is critically important.

Areas for cooperation:

  • We need to remember that the Hope Centre - at Hope House - provides over-night shelter that St. Kevin's used to provide when our Harvest Kitchen was Out of the Cold.
  • Continue to send excess food supplies to Open Arms Mission and to the Hope Centre.
  • St. Vincent de Paul, through vouchers for utility bills, is very supportive of the Hope Centre.
  • There is a pressing need for an updated "brochure" that lists facilities and services available to the poor. The St. Vincent de Paul brochure could be updated with input from our Food Bank and Harvest Kitchen.
  • As the Social Audit recommended: St. Kevin's can cooperate in a very effective way with Hope Centre and Open Arms Mission. It is important to work out what we can do for each other; to understand what each agency is able to provide.

And the Share Advent Fund:

  • Our social ministries can always use financial support.
  • The Food Bank in particular may be able to provide-on a more frequent basis-fresh fruits and vegetables and other staples that can only be bought.
  • Hope Centre provides excellent services. Especially the shelter and some of their training programs can be subsidized by St. Kevin's.

Measures the federal government should take: (From CBC Report on Child Poverty)

  • A nation-wide anti-poverty strategy is needed; poverty is systemic; strategies must address the roots of the reality of poverty.
  • Make El - Employment Insurance - more fair, especially for low-income working women.
  • Raise the minimum wage Canada-wide to $10.00 per hour immediately,
  • Increase federal work tax credits to $2,400 per year.
  • Invest federal dollars in social housing.
  • Raise the national Child Benefit Supplement to create a full child benefit for low-income families of $5,100 per child per year.

St. Kevin's and Habitat for Humanity

As the conversation on poverty concluded, Tim Donohue, Chair of the Pastoral Council, provided the group with an update on St. Kevin's affiliation with Habitat for Humanity. There will be a meeting hosted by St. Kevin's on December 6. Invitations have been sent to the Christian churches in the Welland area. St. Kevin's is hosting the meeting at the request of Habitat for Humanity. The purpose of this get-together is to see how the whole Christian community in Welland might be of assistance to Habitat. This seems like an excellent example of a way to do something for the poor in a clearly ecumenical way.