Catherine Mayo Woodman never expected that making a single meal for 12 people would eventually lead to more than 500 volunteer meals served.
“It started simple and it has stayed with a very simple premise,” says Woodman of the non-profit program Joan’s Table. “Which is community can support people within its own community to have a healthy, dignified and independent lifestyle.”
Founded together with her daughter Maura, Joan’s Table is a Halifax-based volunteer meal donation program aimed at assisting those who have formerly experienced long-term homelessness — in this case, the dozen tenants living at the Shelter Nova Scotia-sponsored Herring Cove Apartments in Spryfield.
“I became aware that there was this apartment just up the road from where we live where they were in the early stages of housing these 12 men,” recalls Catherine of the early inspiration for Joan’s Table. “The big challenge for them at that particular point was — and has been — the food and lack of food budget, and an inability to meet that basic need.”
Aware of the Housing First Principles, Catherine decided to start making meals for the tenants by teaming up with Maura and soon enlisted neighbours to help conceive a plan for a more organized effort for regular food delivery.
“This whole concept that people just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a job and everything will work out — they can’t do that if they have an empty stomach and no shelter, it’s just impossible,” says Catherine. “Food security and homelessness are critical to our ability to have a safe, healthy and viable community and I’m speaking of community in the broadest sense, all across Halifax.”
Since it’s humble inception in 2017, Joan’s Table has gained more than 200 volunteers who have cooked hundreds of meals for the tenants at Herring Cove Apartments.
The concept is simple enough. Interested participants can schedule a day of their choosing on Joan’s Table’s website to prepare a meal for the tenants. There, suggestions help guide volunteers with tips and information about how the program works.
“We take advantage of some digital tools already available,” adds Maura. “We try to make it really easy for someone to discover what Joan’s Table is, learn about how it operates, learn about why it exists and set themselves up to be a part of the group.”
Volunteers haven’t just cooked up meals either. There are other methods to contribute to the cause, including monetary donations or even ordering take-out meals for the apartment.
“I live in Ontario now so I contribute to a take-out meal regularly to help Joan’s Table,” says Maura. “For specific holidays, we have had people get together and make care packages. We did Easter baskets (and) fundraised to equip the apartments with supplies they need.”
Joan’s Table observes the privacy of the tenants recognizing that after years of relying on shelters, the individuals value the dignity of dining at their leisure — therefore meals are delivered to the staff of the apartments. However, just because volunteers aren’t invited to serve dinners directly to the tenants, the Woodmans insist that the rewards for contributing are immeasurable.
“When you do it, it’s a very big gift,” says Catherine, adding that gratitude and notes of thanks are directly communicated through the Herring Cove Apartment’s staff. “There’s a lot of intention and effort that goes into it so it’s really lovely to get that word that night from a grateful staff and tenants to let people know and close the loop about how it was received.”
For more information on Joan’s Table, visit their website.