Notes from the Nest
Our old, pine table is draped with a festive, Christmas cloth. The good dishes are out, accompanied by fancy goblets. The silverware is polished. Candles are lit and the cloth napkins with cheery cardinals perched on snow, glistened branches are ready for service. The roasting turkey and stuffing envelope our home with their familiar, aromatic blend of sage, rosemary and thyme, awakening our senses, announcing, a special meal is at hand.
Soon our table will be laden with creamy, mashed potatoes, sweet and vibrantly, coloured turnip and carrot puree, sautéed Brussel sprouts, homemade, dinner rolls, gravy, pickles, cheese and the apple and pumpkin pies, cooling on the counter. Friends and family will join round, snap apart Christmas crackers and don silly, paper hats, as a jubilant cacophony of laughter and conversation, fills the air. Silently, as I look around at the range and breadth of my abundance, I will give thanks, knowing not everyone is as blessed.
Recently, I spent a little time chatting with Kevin Alkenbrack, the Executive director of Morningstar Mission. While Randy and I have supported the works of the mission, for years now, I really wasn’t acquainted with the entirety of the services they provide, which are so vital to our community.
The mission was founded in 2002 by Deacon, David Smith. After praying for a vocation, he clearly heard “Feed my hungry people.” A weekly Saturday dinner, called “Full-plate,” prepared by Smith and a committed group of volunteers resulted, in the basement of St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church. By 2007, they outgrew the church basement, moved to the Oddfellows Hall and became a registered charity.
As difficult as it can be to acknowledge, most of us are keenly aware that even in our cozy, quaint, little town, lamentably, there are homeless residents. Previously, it was believed homelessness, was a concern for larger cities, but regrettably, it’s a reality in smaller locales as well. According to raisingtheroof.com, roughly 235,000 Canadians, experience homelessness each year, including many children and youth.
Alkenbrack shared that in Napanee, astoundingly and sadly, about 75 people, self-identify as homeless. He explains, homelessness happens for a variety of reasons. Any life crisis such as abuse, divorce, illness, mental health issues, addictions, PTSD, unemployment and criminality, can effortlessly snowball, into having no safe place, to lay your head at night. In addition, there’s usually a lack of family and friend support systems, poverty and a lack of affordable housing. He tells me falling into homelessness, is much easier than most people realize.
The folks at the mission provide many services, including serving four meals a week — two lunches and two suppers. They serve, 8,000 meals per year and give out 350 food boxes. Another service provided, of which I was unaware, is assistance with filling out income tax so there’s no disruption in monthly benefits. Working in partnership with social services, making sure clients are given the supports they require, is another part of their mandate.
Administering ample amounts of emotional and spiritual nurturing, occurs at the mission on a regular basis. There are worship services, prayer and as Alkenbrack also adds, lots of warm smiles and listening ears. He also imparts how difficult it is, for people to reach out for help, due to stigma, guilt, shame and remorse. He says the mission is looking for ‘transformation,’ with the hope, people will come ask for help and be willing to receive it, once offered. He also discloses, “there’s a special feeling to the mission. It’s calming, peaceful and welcoming. There’s just something about this place.”
The mission is fortunate, to have a wealth of volunteers, who help with food preparation, serving, food drives and collection, maintenance, tax preparation, transportation and providing some of those warm smiles and listening ears. There’s even a cat, Molly, who lives there and frequently provides fur-based, emotional connections.
Morningstar receives no government funding, or assistance from the United Way. It’s funded entirely by community support and community groups, offering donations. Alkenbrack, who’s been the director, for almost six years now, is the only paid employee. He adds: “I love my job! Despite being draining, it’s also fulfilling and rewarding.”
As well as appreciating financial donations and volunteers, who assist in day to day operations, he discloses what he considers, to be an equally important way, fellow citizens can make a difference. He says, “they hope to help change perceptions, about what people are really going through. Nothing changes hearts and minds, as much as sitting down and breaking bread with clients.” Alkenbrack says. “All are welcome.”
Morningstar will provide 250 meals, on Christmas day. There’s a meal for clients but also meals given to Emergency service workers and anyone working on Christmas day, wishing to receive one. What an apt demonstration, of what Christmas is truly about!