Royal City Mission has made massive changes to meet the needs of the guests they serve in Guelph, Ontario. When we checked in with the Mission in August 2019, they had just completed a major renovation of their industrial kitchen. In retrospect, the staff knows they would have been unable to meet the COVID challenges if they had not made that difficult decision to undertake the expensive kitchen project.

In 2019, their doors were open to guests 2 1/2 hours, six days a week. With volunteer help, they provided dinner and a safe place to relax and enjoy conversation for people who are homeless, vulnerable or food insecure. Donations came from churches, individuals and businesses, and they served between 400-600 meals each week.

The Mission partners with multiple organizations to provide wraparound care for those who are vulnerable. When COVID took hold, the other organizations shifted focus from daytime programs to finding housing for the homeless. This meant no organization in Guelph provided a daytime space and a lunch meal. Royal City pivoted, and since May, has been open six days a week from 10 am – 8 pm, serving 750-800 pre-packaged lunch and dinner meals. With proper distancing of cafe tables, the Mission can serve up to 40 guests who are experiencing homelessness. Guests who have accommodations, but are food insecure, pick up their pre-packaged meals from volunteers outside the building. 

Royal City Mission is a church, but they changed their name to Mission in 2019 to reflect what they were doing in their community. They intended that this would help them stay focused on their purpose and values. Beyond that, God also used the name change to raise their community profile. With funds tight almost everywhere you look, Royal City had more support in 2020 than ever before. 

“Whenever we are surprised, it is because God has been planning something,” says Lead Pastor Kevin Coghill. He also notes that because they were involved in this ministry pre-COVID, God had uniquely positioned them to take it to the next level.

Twenty-four churches drop off food. Individuals, local businesses, and institutions are also a tremendous source of donations. It takes a host of volunteers for prep, cooking, serving and hanging out with each day’s guests.

The Mission’s work is not without challenge. The hours during COVID have been long, and for the pastors and staff, the key to daily life at RCM is flexibility. A pastor may be in an office preparing a sermon or down in the kitchen making soup, talking with a guest, or sorting out a conflict; this is an endless source of sermon material.  Kevin says, “Our speaking flows out of serving.” 

Marginalized at the best of times, during COVID, there are even fewer places for people to go for shelter and a kind word to alleviate loneliness. Some guests have issues that lead to behavioural problems, and adhering to necessary restrictions and rules is hard for some. 

Despite the difficulties, “The community is super-thankful,” says Kevin, “and it is beautiful to be able to serve people who are struggling. Compassion is our number 1 rule.” 

This article is featured in the Spring 2021 edition of The EMCC Together Newsletter.

Download a PDF copy of the newsletter and previous EMCC Together publications here.