In the Spring of 1978 the late Fr. Fred Magee, OMI sowed a seed that has grown and flourished into what is now a defining part of St. Joseph’s Parish and the Ottawa community. Marie Doyle, Melissa Sabourin, Garry Byrne, and the many front desk personnel took charge of the day-to-day supervision and menu-planning. Then, we received a grant and we were able to hire Dave Ro, the first hired Supper Table Manager. Each brought their gifts, talents and passion to this mission and each contributed to helping it grow in response to the need. Mary Murphy is the current Supper Table Manager, while Mitchell Warner works as the part-time cook coordinator.
This outreach ministry serves those who come to our door in need of food for both the body and soul. Each lovingly prepared meal is offered through respect and attention, while the food for the heart comes through the company of others. We gather together each weeknight around the serving of a meal and welcome one another in conversation and companionship, or in respectful acknowledgement of those who wish to be silent.
In the beginning, the program provided bagged lunches made in a tiny room in the rectory. After a few months, a place was found to allow guests to come in and eat at a long table with several welcoming chairs surrounding it. In 1984, one displaced secretary and some renovations later, the kitchen moved and expanded.
From there it expanded further. From 2009 until today, the day facility includes a fully equipped kitchen and a nicely appointed dining room which can seat up to 24 people.
Over the years, the few guests grew into as many as 160 on some evenings. What started as a pantry, without even a stove, grew into a fully equipped kitchen. The tiny, crowded seating area for 8 grew into a larger, though still sometimes crowded, seating area for 24 guests. The number of bagged lunches grew from a handful to as many as 80 on some evenings. The small homogenous core of volunteers has grown into a larger, more diverse group who want to give back. These volunteers include working people, the elderly, and even busy students.
Today, volunteers come in as early as 8:30 a.m. to prepare the dinner and sandwiches. Another group comes in the afternoon to prepare the juice, coffee and desserts, followed by yet another group of volunteers who come in to serve our guests with warmth and respect.
In April of 2014, the Supper Table introduced a community garden from which to gather vegetables and herbs. Our first effort received many rewards. We have had very little vandalism, if any and we have had several weekly baskets of tomatoes for our salads as well as beans, lettuce, chard and herbs. The biggest and most surprising benefit was the conversation it started on the streets and among guests. It became the community's garden and people on the street or even just driving by often had something to say - advice, questions, and usually just the comment that "that is beautiful."
Recently, the Supper Table along with the Mission initiated the Ottawa Food Providers Network. The initiative is meant to bring together the many groups that provide food for the hungry. Each month, we gather to share wisdom, efforts and provide mutual support to each other.
We seek to build on the dreams and efforts of those before us and make this mission a place of nourishment to meet the challenges we face in these coming days of high unemployment, addiction support, the working poor and the boredom that some find themselves in when they have no place to contribute.