St. John's Kitchen is a haven in downtown Kitchener serving up to 300 meals per day and providing a refuge from isolation. The patrons of St. John's Kitchen who have a residence, typically occupy a single room. Many of the patrons suffer from physical and mental health issues; all of course are lacking sufficient funds. Living with a disability almost always diminishes an individual's standard of living. People spend a great deal of time alone in their single room, increasing the inevitable feelings of alienation. Lack of access to laundry facilities, clothes, washrooms, and haircuts only adds to the despair and increases a sense of ongoing condescension.
St. John's Kitchen then becomes an essential retreat, offering a refuge from isolation, where one can enjoy the company of others and be accepted as part of a community. According to social critic, John McKnight, such is a place where each individual is recognized not by their conformity within the group but by their uniqueness. The strength of a community lies in the qualities and strengths each person brings. Differences are not only accepted but encouraged. It is our hope, through acceptance, people are enlivened to move beyond their isolation.
St. John's Kitchen offers many food and community services, yet in equal measure though less tangible, it is a philosophy. The Kitchen, now in operation for 19 years, has grown to a total of 160 volunteers, 85 of whom participate weekly, despite the fact that no schedule for volunteers exists. People simply come when they want, and many set their own commitment and schedule of work. This informal setup has meant that the Kitchen is never at a loss for help; there is always an abundance of people wanting to work, some everyday. And 80% of the volunteers are patrons from the dining room. In other words, the people are everything. The infrastructure is such that partrons themselves make the Kitchen work. People are involved together, in community, to produce the meal, clean up afterwards, and everything that is necessary to be done. The freedom that is extended to people (there are no rules except one: no violence can be perpetrated against another), allows for growth in a socially cooperative manner.
An important dimension of St. John's Kitchen within the broader context of its place within the community of Waterloo Region, is its ability to redistribute food that would otherwise have been wasted. Every year approximately 200,000 pounds of usable food is prepared or distributed at St. John's Kitchen. This incredible amount of surplus food makes apparent the abundance of food available within our community that is inaccessible to people due to lack of funds. In fact, in Canada, 20% or our food is wasted.
St. John's Kitchen is a unique place that offers a variety of support. The creation of a place that bears a vision of a respectful, cooperative haven where all can eat and have the time to visit friends and acquaintances is the role of St. John's Kitchen in the Kitchener downtown. It is a place that celebrates the preparing and serving of a daily meal, while it also laments the many separations that exist. We continue to encourage an understanding of community that grows from relationships that are not hierarchical, and supports individuals along their journey.