Christ Church Cathedral’s Maundy Café relaunched on Wednesday April 29 with takeaway lunch service. Seeking to resume its practice of sharing food with those who are hungry in Vancouver’s Downtown and West End neighbourhoods, the Café dished out homemade chili, juice, fruit, and granola bars packaged in paper bags with cutlery, ready to eat.
At St. James' in the DTES, the parish's community partner Watari has received permission to begin again. The Food Bank at St. Bart's, Gibson's opened up again on Wednesday, April 29 and St. Augustine's, Marpole will be returning soon to their Thursday food ministry using many of the same protocols that you will read about in this article. St. Barnabas', New Westminster's Food Pantry, food distribution ministry in in process for reopening with good participation planned from the City of New Westminster.
For the Cathedral, food is always about more than fuel for hungry bodies. Its food philosophy makes clear that the for the Cathedral food cultivates connection, holistic health, and community resiliency. While this mission was put on hiatus for a time with the onset of COVID-19, dedicated volunteers and staff pushed to adapt and reopen the café in order to continue to serve the community in this difficult time.
When volunteers arrived at 8:30 Wednesday morning, they were provided with an in-depth orientation to new safety procedures designed to keep Café guests, volunteers, and staff safe. These procedures were developed in consultation with Vancouver Coastal Health and the City of Vancouver to ensure compliance with guidelines provided by the local health authority.
As the day progressed, volunteers noticed that the needs of people in the neighbourhood had not disappeared. “There are still a lot of hungry people out there—so many who came to the café five days a week,” said Holly McMillan, a long-time Maundy volunteer. “Their needs didn’t go away because of the pandemic. In fact, they are probably heightened.”
That need was heightened because many food programs in the Downtown and West End have shut down, leaving many without access to food. The Greater Vancouver Food Bank has moved from neighbourhood hubs to regional sites, leaving many of the Cathedral’s closest neighbours with more difficult access to food.
David McMillan describes an interaction from Wednesday morning that moved him deeply. “There was a chap that came and told me he hadn’t eaten in three days. I got the chance to hand him lunch. Two portions, actually. And I thought—this is the business we should be in.”
Food, however, is not the only need people in the neighbourhood experienced. For many guests on Wednesday, it was about more than the food. Mr. McMillan observed that many who came to pick up lunch also wanted to stop and to chat. To the McMillans, it appeared as though there was something important about the church once again showing up with a loving human face (albeit behind a mask).
The Rev. Marnie Peterson is Pastor to St. Brigid’s and to the Maundy Café. For the last three years, she has been a regular presence in the Cathedral's Park Room gathering space during meal times, offering pastoral care to those who have come to the Cathedral for food and connection. “Seeing some of our regulars was such a highlight,” she said, “It was so great to see folks we’re used to seeing every day, and seeing that they are ok.”
Deborah Gault, reflecting on her experience preparing food on Wednesday wrote in an email:
“I am so grateful I was part of the team reopening our Maundy Cafe...There are so many things I have missed since we had to close. I have missed the team of volunteers who work so hard every week to make such sustaining meals through Alberto’s recipes and guidance. However, most of all I have missed our guests.”
On the first day of resuming service, the Café had 25 guests, a fraction of its usual numbers. The team had done outreach in advance to local churches, the local neighbourhood house, and others, to let people know about the café's return. The team expects to see the number of guests rise rapidly. Word of mouth has always been the café’s best advertisement.
Reflecting on his experience of the day, Jaramillo described the joy of walking down West Georgia street towards the Vancouver Public Library. He stopped by London Drugs and Library Square seeing many people he recognized—and others he didn’t. It was an opportunity to ask people if they were looking for lunch that day, and to tell them where they could find food. That, says Jaramillo, is what excites him the most: “I love that the word is getting out. I’m excited to see people coming back, and I’m excited that the Café is coming back to fill the need that is out there.”
After March 18, when the Café shut down, Holly McMillan found herself frustrated. “I felt that the church should be out there, on the front lines, feeding the poor,” she said. Asked why, she responded, “I’m not someone who goes around saying ‘Jesus said,’ but…Jesus said.”
The Cathedral’s Maundy Café is now operating on Wednesdays from 11.30am to 12.30pm at 690 Burrard St., Vancouver. The team is working hard to add other days in the coming weeks, and is developing a basic food pantry to support others in need.
A variety of photos from reopening day submitted by CCC staff. (In photo number 4 we see married couple Holly and David McMillan packing meal bags, they are not social distancing but after 40+ years of marriage...well)