This month and next our Canadian and U.S. congregations celebrate Thanksgiving. Food is often a central part of the festivities, both in our homes and in worship services, with harvest displays and food bank donation drives. As Christians called to do justice, addressing food insecurity is a key part of our ministry. Some Christian Reformed congregations in Ontario are intentionally supporting businesses that work to improve access to healthy food in the midst of their own work and meetings.
An elder-led fellowship group of Meadowlands Fellowship CRC takes its once-a-month gathering to 541 Eatery and Exchange in Hamilton, Ont.
Located in a historic building on Barton Street surrounded by many vacant and boarded-up storefronts, 541 Eatery and Exchange strives to be a place where the love of Jesus is shown in a real way. The goal is to provide fresh, nourishing food at a reasonable price. The café also has a program where buttons become currency; for $1, customers can purchase a button to leave in a jar on the counter. Customers who cannot afford a meal can use up to 6 buttons to pay for their order.
541 is also a place of communal gathering, meeting needs of the neighbourhood through homework clubs, games nights, employment skills training, and various workshops. Newer ventures include the community garden located right behind the restaurant and a community kitchen that will open down the street at Edu-Deo Ministries’ Campus 621.
The cafe relies on volunteers to keep costs low and to help run community programs. The Meadowlands group contributes to that, eating a meal, buying some buttons and then helping with cleanup.
“It’s a way that we could give back to our community in a tangible way,” explained Betty Brouwer, a deacon at Meadowlands. Another area church, Dundas Calvin CRC, has a men’s group that meets at 541 every Wednesday evening to play cards.
“It started as way for men recovering from drug addiction to have a chance to socialize with men who weren’t addicts,” explained Don Koning, a member of Dundas Calvin. The group has been playing there since 541 opened. Several men have been coming since the beginning who have been successful in overcoming addiction.
In Oshawa, Ont., at the September meeting of Classis Quinte, a regional assembly of churches, delegates gathered at Zion CRC enjoyed a lunch catered by Justice Burgers. Located in the city and open for a year, the restaurant offers coupons that customers can purchase for $5. These coupons are then pinned to a board near the cash and are available for anyone to redeem for a free burger, no questions asked. Delegates were excited to support this ministry and give the organization a chance to introduce themselves. They offered further support for the initiative by buying vouchers for the restaurant.
Both 541 and Justice Burgers are driven by the desire to improve their communities, to be spaces where food security and social justice connect in very concrete ways. They are thankful for the support of individuals and churches to keep these giveback programs going.