Parked in the alley beside St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, at the intersection of Clergy and Princess streets, an inconspicuous white truck reaches out to those in need on Kingston’s cold winter nights. For the past 12 years, the Kingston Street Mission Truck has been a place of refuge for individuals seeking warmth and camaraderie on the streets of downtown Kingston.
Mission Chair Darcy Ross Izzard said the truck has an inclusive atmosphere.
“It’s a place where anybody on the street can come on in and grab a cup of soup or a hot drink—it’s like a coffee shop,” he said. “They can sit down in a nice warm, non-judgmental environment.”
Izzard, who has been involved with the Truck for 10 years, said other establishments tend to be less welcoming to those living on the streets.
“In those clothes, to go to Tim Horton’s, you might be looked at,” he said.
The Mission Truck, though, is an exception. Inside, visitors are not belittled; rather, Izzard said, “they’re dignified.”
Beyond offering hot beverages, the Mission Truck also provides, at no cost, winter staples to those without.
“We also have emergency clothing—socks, mitts, blankets, sleeping bags if they need it. And we have a little TV, so they can do things like come in and watch the hockey game. That’s what it is, a hangout.”
The origins of the truck go back to one generous donor.
“One of the Kingston City Police started it up because there were people sitting on the street. He donated the truck anonymously.”
The Mission Truck is staffed entirely by volunteers and costs about $4,000 a year to operate, Izzard said.
“We do a car wash and stuff like that, and we rely on donations from the general community.”
The Mission Truck is open every night from mid-October to mid-April, 9 p.m. to midnight, but if the need is there, it will stay open until 2:30 a.m., Izzard said. During those hours, the truck is a busy place, averaging 15 to 20 customers per night.
“Every night we have clients,” he said, adding that there’s a fairly regular crowd.
When the truck closes, some of its visitors return to public housing or homeless shelters, while others sleep on the street, Izzard said.
John, a regular at the truck who didn’t give his last name, is a seasonal worker facing unemployment. Because of his status as an psychiatric hospital outpatient, John said he’s unable to work full time.
“I’m waiting for my Employment Insurance to start from the government—there was a screw up with it,” he said. “When I came back to Kingston it didn’t work out right, so I lost my apartment.”
He said he appreciates the constancy of the Mission Truck.
“It runs every day of the year, even on Christmas and New Year’s. They have a little gift for everyone.”
John, who grew up in Kingston and is currently homeless, said he credits the truck for being a welcoming presence for those without their own place to call home.
“There are other guys here who are long-term. This is their life—14, 15 years living on the streets,” he said.
For many of those people, the truck helps to fill the void of homelessness.
Vivian, who also goes to church on Sundays for a warm meal, is another frequent visitor to the Mission Truck. She said she looks forward to the respite from the cold the truck offers.
“It’s good for a winter’s night if you want a hot tea or hot chocolate,” she said. “I just started coming to the truck this year. I didn’t know about it before. I’ve just seen people coming in.”
Tyler Barrack, Comm ’09, is a new volunteer with the Mission Truck, where he started working at the end of October with a friend who has been volunteering there for three years. He said the truck’s community feel is one of the primary reasons he got involved.
“It’s an interesting dynamic. You see these people picking up bottles in the ghetto, and to know them by name is a very cool feeling,” he said.
Barrack said volunteers work in pairs, both for safety and because one of the truck’s goals is to provide a sense of community. On a typical evening, Barrack arrives around 9 p.m. to open the truck and turn on the heat and lighting. After boiling water for warm drinks, he said he spends most of the evening chatting with visitors and listening to stories.
“Then it’s mostly just about community,” Barrack said. “It’s more just listening to people’s stories and giving them an opportunity to talk to someone on an equal level.”
On most nights, he said, there’s a steady flow of visitors—but because of the truck’s size, never more than five to seven people at a time. Most stay from anywhere between 10 minutes and three hours, Barrack said.
“We usually try to get people out by 10:50 because the shelters have an 11 o’clock curfew.”
Barrack said he doesn’t know of any other Queen’s students who volunteer to run the truck—but he isn’t the only Queen’s student involved.
Soul Food, a group established two years ago by Sheri Krell, ArtSci ’08, brings leftover food out of Leonard cafeteria and into the hands of those in need.
Soul Food Co-Chair Ariella Gross-Grand, ArtSci ’09, said the project delivers food to a different local shelter, as well as making a delivery to the Mission Truck, on a nightly basis.
“Volunteers show up at the cafeteria after hours, at about 8:15, and the leftover food is already pre-packaged for us,” she said. “Sodexho takes its temperature to make sure the food is safe to get to the shelter in the right amount of time.”
All leftover finger foods, such as pizza, are delivered to the Mission Truck for visitors to enjoy.
“When we first started Soul Food, what was really important was that we didn’t want to take away from anything else that was going on,” Gross-Grand said.
Soul Food’s partnership with the Mission Truck has allowed the distribution of food to be added to the list of services the truck offers.
“Our initial reason for connection was we found a niche in Kingston that didn’t have food being made available,” Gross-Grand said.
Recently, the group donated $500 to the Mission Truck for repairs. The money came from a $1,000 grant Sodexho gave to Soul Food.
Gross-Grand said Soul Food is about more than just delivering leftovers.
“Our primary concern is we don’t see ourselves as a charity organization; we see ourselves as a social action group. We’re trying to reduce food waste, but it’s about giving the shelters more resources so they can spend less.”
—With files from Kerri MacDonald and Michael Woods
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