We asked Janice to jot down some notes about Martha's for a grant application and this is what she sent us:
November 28, 2016
Five days a week Martha’s Table offers low-income Kingston residents a three-course dinner served restaurant style. The food is cooked from scratch every day on the premises. Guests pay for the meal, $1, which is according to their means and contributes to the cost of running the organization. Of course, guests are never denied a meal if they arrive with no money or no ticket, but they are strongly encouraged to pay back the $1 when they can.
Volunteer servers are trained to treat the guests as they would the patrons of another restaurant. Throughout the day, a large living room, the Friendship Room, is open to guests who are seeking shelter, a spot to rest, or some company. Coffee, tea, juice, snacks and sandwiches are available there at no cost. Everyone is welcome at Martha’s Table. This is a policy applies both to guests and volunteers. Indeed, many regular guests become volunteers. A physical incapacity, mental health challenge or severe developmental disability does not stand in the way of someone being a volunteer at Martha’s. Neither does a prior criminal conviction. Martha’s Table could not be more inclusive. In fact, the only people turned away from Martha’s are those whose behaviour is threatening or disrespectful to others.
Many, many short-term volunteers pass through the doors of Martha’s, and the paid staff always encourages people’s desire to lend a hand and to meet Martha’s guests and volunteers. Firefighters or local celebrities may plan, provide, or serve a dinner. A high school class may arrive for a few hours work and rub shoulders with college placement students, retired seniors, adults with disabilities, Queen’s University club members—all pitching in together to get on a meal. The openness of the organization to short volunteer stints means that almost everyone is Kingston has heard of Martha’s Table and many have witnessed its work first hand. Thus, community members and businesses are happy to offer help. A hair dresser offers free haircuts about once a month. Grocery stores and coffee shops donate day old bread and baked goods every week. Local gardeners and farmers are so generous with their produce that they tax the sangfroid and creativity of the cook. (But she always manages to cope! And many pureed vegetable surreptitiously make their way into the meat loaf.) People knock at the side door of Martha’s with bags of clothes and shoes for the free clothing nook. Local musicians line up to offer their services for Martha’s annual major fundraising event, even though they won’t be taking the stage; they will merely be providing background music.
There is no question that Martha’s Table is favourably regarded and fondly owned by the Kingston community. Right now on the dining room tables at Martha’s is one card advertising help getting an OHIP card and another offering the services of Queen’s Legal Aid Clinic. The best thing about these offers is that Martha’s guests won’t have to find their way to a Service Ontario centre or the Queen’s University campus. This help is offered right at Martha’s, where guests are comfortable and confident they will be treated with respect.
I mentioned above the many volunteers who work briefly at Martha’s. Many other volunteers have worked regular shifts at the organization for years, shoulder to shoulder with the small, dedicated staff. These volunteers treat their work just like a job (food prep, laundry, dishwashing, dining room set-up, dinner service, bussing, cleaning, custodial tasks, overseeing the Friendship Room). The more experienced volunteers actually make it possible for new volunteers to be continually integrated, and the attitude of the long-term volunteers rubs off on the new ones. Most long-term volunteers are quite willing to admit that they needed something from Martha’s. They were lonely, or needed more structure in their lives, or something positive and community oriented to do. In other words, we Martha’s volunteers have the philosophy that we are all in this together. We need a Martha’s Table as much as Martha’s guests need us. If guests are always afforded respect at Martha’s, it is because of the humility and fellow feeling of the staff and volunteers of this organization. Martha’s Table is run with compassion, thrift and efficiency. It offers good food and companionship, and even occasional opportunities for creative expression. For more than two decades, this organization has been a warm and sustaining support for some of Kingston’s most vulnerable citizens.
This letter was mailed to us from Tamara, a student who participated in the "Summer Jobs For Youth" program at Keys Job Centre: "This summer I got the experience of working with wonderful people in a wonderful place. The people at Martha's let me grow as a person, both physically and mentally. The atmosphere at Martha's was very free, very calming. The people I got to serve were hopeful in regards to my learning how to serve them properly and peacefully. I am thankful to have met all of them, and to have met my fellow employees. We worked in the kitchen Monday to Friday, and together we were able to make Martha's work. I have gained many skills from working there, and these skills will help me succeed in the future. It was an eye-opening experience, with the pleasure of enjoying the work you do. I've learned to stay steady and enjoy each moment for what it is. Thank you for supporting me on my journey to a better life and helping me when help was needed. I couldn't be more proud of everything I and the people around me have accomplished. Thank you. I will never forget the times we all shared and I will stop in whenever I can to visit the family."
One of our guests wrote the following on a dinner napkin: "Thank you for a lovely supper, it was served by staff members who treated people in a friendly, polite manner for which I'm most grateful to not be looked down at because I'm broke and in need of a meal. It's always a pleasure to come to Martha's Table for an excellent meal, for which I'm grateful for it being here...For people like me, who would be hungry if not for you being here. God bless you."
From a donor who doesn't get out of the house as much as she used to and with a cheque enclosed: Thank you...this helps me feel like I'm still a part of the community, so it works both ways. Keep up the good work that you and the other volunteers do every day.