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Bill Payne - A London Good Samaritan Supporting the Vulnerable at St. Joseph’s Hospitality Centre Throughout COVID
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COVID-19 has affected all our lives, but for the homeless community of London, COVID has massively changed access to nutritious meals or spiritual support. At St. Joseph’s Hospitality Centre, meeting the needs of the soup kitchen’s guests is of utmost importance. Bill Payne has spent 26 years serving the vulnerable in London as a volunteer at the centre and as the centre’s coordinator. As coordinator, he has first-hand experience serving the centre’s guests during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as the initial panic from COVID has calmed and those working at the centre have settled into their routines, Bill shares the struggles, successes, and changes, and the ways he sees God working within the centre’s community.

Before the pandemic, the centre offered restaurant style sit-down breakfasts and lunches Monday to Friday and part of the day on Saturdays. Waiters served the guests, and they ensured that guests had a quality experience at the centre. Guests found dignity through being able to contribute a nominal fee to the centre for each meal and through receiving a good dining experience. Bill describes the sit-down atmosphere as “chaotic but cozy,” and much busier now than in past years. Around 400 meals a day were being served for breakfast and lunch, and the sisters of St. Joseph’s were instrumental in running the kitchen at the centre.

COVID has dramatically changed the way the hospitality centre is able to serve its guests. Bill says that safety precautions were put into place very early in order to protect guests and to avoid having COVID spread to this vulnerable community. For the time being, the centre has stopped providing eat-in dining services, and it has instead switched to offering a bagged lunch and breakfast. The sisters of St. Joseph’s have been put on lockdown, which means they are unable to come to the centre to help. However, this has not stopped them from participating in feeding the centre’s guests. They have been busy making bag lunches, which are sent to the centre via a driver so that guests can continue to access meals throughout the COVID pandemic. Though many of the centre’s volunteers are also unable to come in, people in the community have stepped up to help the centre provide for guests by donating pre-packaged snacks like granola bars and juice boxes to put into the bag breakfasts and lunches. Bill says that even in this difficult time with so many changes happening and so many volunteers unable to come in, the centre has still been able to manage to keep running smoothly.

The current situation is challenging for everyone, but Bill says that one thing he has been encouraged by specifically is how well the centre’s guests have been able to deal with the changes. Not all the guests were initially even aware of what was happening with COVID, but they have been able to adapt. The guests are not complaining about the changes, but are thankful and grateful, recognizing that the masks and protective equipment worn by the volunteers are to keep guests safe from COVID getting into their community.

God is at work in the guest community throughout this difficult time. Bill mentioned that learning how to pray is a top Google search for community members, which shows an interest in learning more about spirituality and prayer. A significant blessing has been that the vulnerable community has been able to stay safe, and that none of the regular guests have yet been diagnosed with COVID. Bill says that the faith of believers in the community also seems to have become stronger, as catastrophe draws people away from things in life that occupy time or energy and redirects their thoughts to God. God is working through those in the London community who have been reaching out to the hospitality centre to ask how they can help the centre and to donate pre-packaged snacks. Bill says that the support from the community is overwhelming, and that through donations God has provided everything the centre needs to continue to reach guests.

Bill says that what has really got his attention is that in this time where people are becoming more focused on their own needs, people are also looking to help those who are more vulnerable in their communities. People are selflessly sharing with others who are in need, and they are blessing each other even throughout this difficult time. Bill encourages the London community to keep their safety foremost and to ensure that COVID is not being spread, but also to share with each other and meet the needs of others in safe ways. In this difficult time we can come together as a community to find appropriate ways to support those who are most vulnerable, whether they are the homeless in London, the elderly, or those who are unable to leave their homes. We might struggle to help people in ways that we did before, but we can always find appropriate ways to adapt so we can still be there for vulnerable communities.

St Joseph's Hospitality Centre
707 Dundas St E,
London, ON
N5W 2Z5

Phone: 519-432-0660