Drop In at Immaculate Conception needs you. Or maybe you need the Drop In

October 20, 2015

Ruth Chipman, front and centre, with some long-time volunteers and some new ones answering the call.

By James Buchok

 The Drop In at Immaculate Conception Church in Winnipeg needs you. Or, if you heed the words of some of its long-time volunteers, maybe you need the Drop In.

Words such as “life-changing, transformative, “ and “a blessing, we’re the lucky ones” are used by those who give their time in service to others as they describe the experience. And although there are always enough helpers to serve hot meals on Sunday afternoons, whether it’s eight servers or two dozen, the Drop In is in a constant state of recruiting, because the need is great.

Ruth Chipman has been part of the Drop-In leadership team for the past 11 years and now it’s time for transition. Chipman called for a gathering of seasoned volunteers, curious possible new recruits, and people from the Point Douglas community the Drop-In serves, to talk about the future. A third of the volunteer servers and food preparation crew live in the inner city neighbourhood. Another third are high school students fulfilling a community service requirement, although many continue after graduation, and the rest are people from all over Winnipeg.

One of the new and curious at the gathering was a healthcare worker at the Health Sciences Centre, in another part of the inner city. She sees the poor teens from the neighbourhood among the medicine and dentistry students, “the same age with the same intelligence but just stuck on a totally different trajectory. I’m tired of them always being told, ‘you can’t come in here.’” She wants to part of a place where all are welcome.

Chipman talked about the 40-year history of the Drop In, starting with the Legion of Mary. There was no Salvation Army presence (which there is now, close by on Main Street) and no Siloam Mission (a downtown shelter providing meals, clothing and more) and nothing open on weekends. The Holy Names sisters also helped and in the last 15 to 20 years more and more lay people started getting involved. Chipman said a major change occurred when the Drop In switched from having people line up for food, which favoured the more able bodied, and instead let all come in and sit down and be served.

“The New Testament is not full of long lines,” she said. “It’s full of feasts and weddings and celebrations. We’re doing loaves and fishes every week. What’s critical is that it’s community, not charity.”

A long-time volunteer said, “I’m transformed. The line blurs between who’s the one serving and who’s the one being served. We’re all in this together and that’s what you see.”

Another quoted Pope Francis saying “the church is to be a field hospital. A field hospital where we’re all patients and doctors and nurses.” She said the Drop In “is a treasure that we need to protect and help to flourish. In all those we meet there we have been held in God’s loving care. It’s not one person trying to do good, we are a group.”

Chipman said three areas need to be addressed for the future of the Drop In; gaining new volunteers, growing the coordinating team and improving communications. “Who can we engage? Who will be a part of change at the heart of the city?,” she asked. One specific need is for people with food handling certification.

Many potential helpers may worry about their safety in the neighbourhood or with some of the people they might meet, but the regular volunteers say there is no need to be afraid. “It’s not dangerous. After one or two times you realize there is no need to be afraid.”

A long-time volunteer said, “I had lived so long in such a protected way. The most surprising and amazing thing is the personal transformation, coming out of my bubble.”

Governments do what they can, said Chipman, “but we know what works, and what works are friendships and relationships.”

Anyone who wants to lend a hand need only show up, Sunday afternoons at 12:30 at Immaculate Conception Church, 181 Austin St.

Read More News