Telling the Story of St. John’s Kitchen

St. John’s Kitchen is a gathering place for people in downtown Kitchener. Its diverse community includes many people who are experiencing homelessness, at risk of homelessness, or are street involved. For over 30 years, people have come to St. John’s Kitchen to be with others, have conversation, prepare a daily meal and share it together, and access a variety of supports and resources. It’s a place where people come together in the spirit of respect and mutual support.

In the fall of 1984, St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church at Duke and Water in downtown Kitchener agreed to host St. John’s Kitchen. The first meal was served on January 15, 1985. The goal was to distribute surplus food by involving patrons in the daily work of cooking, serving and cleaning up. The Kitchen quickly became a place for a daily meal in an accepting atmosphere of mutual support.  After 21 years, in 2006, St. John’s Kitchen moved to a new location at 97 Victoria North.

In 2005, The Working Centre renovated a 7,500 square foot old factory building to accommodate Worth a Second Look Furniture and Housewares on the main floor and St. John’s Kitchen on the second floor. The new St. John’s Kitchen is a bright open space with high ceilings and many windows, full of plants and artwork. Each weekday morning, people sit together and have coffee and toast, chat, play cards, or quietly enjoy each other’s company. By mid-day the space is bustling, as around 300 people gather to share the hot meal. With only a few staff, most of the food preparation, serving, and cleanup work is done by people who come for the daily meal and community volunteers.

Arleen Macpherson grew up in Gowganda, northern Ontario.  After graduating as a nurse, Arleen married Ken Macpherson and in Kitchener they raised their five children Andy, Bruce, Ian, David and Kate. Arleen started walking with The Working Centre in 1988 as coordinator of St. John’s Kitchen. She retired in 1999 and soon joined The Working Centre Board of Directors, retiring as President in 2018. Arleen was named Oktoberfest Woman of the Year (Humanitarian) in 1999.

Gretchen Jones came to St. John’s Kitchen in 1990 as a volunteer. Together with Arleen  they carried St. John’s Kitchen producing the meals, the clean up and friendships every day. Gretchen has been the mainstay in the Kitchen teaching volunteers the art of producing a meal when the ingredients arrive at the door. In 2003, Gretchen was recognized with the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal for her work at St. John’s Kitchen. Gretchen has two grown children Nathan and Josh.

Jennifer Mains became the coordinator of St. John’s Kitchen when Arleen retired in 1999. Working in cooperation with the community, her work has resulted in many new services at St. John’s Kitchen that includes Downtown Street Outreach, Hospitality House, Psychiatric Outreach and the St. John’s Kitchen medical and dental clinics. Jennifer is married to Randy and they have 2 grown children Ewan and Allie. 

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