The Gathering Place, a community outreach founded by three Thunder Bay, Ont., Christian Reformed congregations, has been providing "nourishment for body and soul" for 35 years. It's continuing to serve the community three days a week, with some adaptations to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Having had to close during lockdown for several months, The Gathering Place reopened this fall, adapting some programming and canceling their Little Lambs childcare program. Director Yvonne Schenk said contact has been important, even when the center was closed.
“We connected with people by phone, dropped care packages to families with children from our Little Lambs program and some care packages to those who were struggling with loneliness,” Schenk said. “In fact, we were able to partner with Bethlehem CRC, in Thunder Bay, with a grant from Diaconal Ministries, to make and distribute some of these packages, as well as setting up a tent outside in the summer to offer a place to sit and chat along with a bottle of water or iced tea to people walking down the sidewalk.”
Schenk said the center’s mission—“to be a safe place to meet Jesus”—has remained consistent over the years, while the kinds of programs have shifted from early classes in English as a second language and Vacation Bible School for kids to a focus on a now older population. “Today, with demographics changing, we find ourselves focusing more on adult programs,” Schenk said. “We adjust to meet the needs of those who enter our doors and at the same time, ensure that our mission and vision statements are always fulfilled.”
“We have the space to offer a variety of programs to meet the needs of our community—cooking for seniors (and) crafts for those who are bored, looking to get out to a safe place during the day,” Schenk said.
Schenk said they also received a grant from the Thunder Bay Community Foundation that allowed them to purchase wipeable steel chairs, a freezer, and cleaning supplies so they were ready to go with programs once the lockdown lifted.
The Gathering Place has been well supported by local CRC congregations through this time, financially and in volunteers. In addition, Schenk said the positive connections with the local health unit, which worked hard to help them figure out which regulations applied to their unique situation, and other food banks in Thunder Bay, was a surprise blessing in the midst of the current crisis.
“As time goes on, we realize that we may need to adjust to the challenges of the world around us, but we are willing and ready to continue adapting. Flexibility and a lot of grace, love, and understanding are key things to possess in this world that is ever-changing,” Schenk said.