St. John’s Kitchen was established in January 1985. Its first location was at St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in downtown Kitchener, already a local gathering place thanks to its role in hosting an Unemployed Workers' Centre operated by The Working Centre in the early 1980’s.
The foundational philosophies of The Working Centre grounded the model of St. John’s Kitchen as a place for people to freely and mutually support each other in community – different from a place of charity. St. John’s Kitchen was intentionally nurtured as a place where:
- Everyone is welcome
- The daily work is completed through the cooperative participation of people using the space
- Culture grows organically from the values of people using the space
The daily hot meal was the first support to be offered at St. John’s Kitchen, and it remains a core element of daily life in the space. From the beginning, people sharing in the meal participated in the preparing and serving of it. As people worked together, ate together, and had conversations together, a unique culture formed through the intertwining of the foundational philosophies of The Working Centre, and the values of people gathering in the space. People gathering at f St. John’s Kitchen have always identified to varying degrees with the local street culture, and this complex and non-homogenous culture has created the values base of the space.
The role of staff members at St. John’s Kitchen has always been to understand the evolving culture of the space, and to support people as needed and wanted, within the norms and values of the culture. As part of this role, an intentional choice was made in the 1980’s to decline recommendations by Waterloo Region’s Health and Social Service Committee to create a list of people participating in the daily meal and to charge them a fee. The ramifications of this choice have been significant over the years since. Most importantly, this choice has allowed St. John’s Kitchen to grow into a gathering place that belongs to its community. However, it also created a barrier to government funding in the 1990’s, meaning that for 25 years, St. John’s Kitchen has funded its activities almost entirely through community donations.
In the early 2000’s, changes in the local community led to more complex needs among people gathering at St. John’s Kitchen. In response, St. John’s Kitchen became involved in community partnerships to create new mobile outreach supports, and then began to work in close collaboration with those supports. At the same time, community partners started to base some services at St. John’s Kitchen, chiefly because the populations they served were already gathering there.
As St. John’s Kitchen became a place where people were supported in more complex ways, it was agreed with St. John’s Church that a new location was needed. After being hosted by St. John’s Church for 23 years, in 2006, St. John’s Kitchen moved to a new location at 97 Victoria St. North.
In its new location, St. John’s Kitchen has continued to respond to the evolving needs of the population it serves. A medical clinic built into the back of the new space hosts health services delivered by a blend of community partners, and staff hired through The Working Centre.
Over the years, several larger projects have been incubated at St. John’s Kitchen in response to needs expressed by people gathering in the space. These projects include the Hospitality House, Worth a Second Look Furniture and Housewares, Job Café, and the Community Dental Clinic. Some of them are now based in buildings around 97 Victoria St. North.
St. John's Kitchen Renovation Pictures
Before becoming the new home of St. John's Kitchen in 2006, 97 Victoria St. North was a disused 1880's-era factory warehouse. The community of St. John's Kitchen and The Working Centre worked together to renovate the building and create a beautiful place that is full of life, housing St. John's Kitchen on the second floor and Worth a Second Look Furniture and Housewares on the first floor.
To read more about The Working Centre's work revitalizing downtown buildings, click here.