Actions speak - and for St. Jerome’s University’s Director, Campus Ministry, Sean Hayes he has been walking the talk, since 1987. Hayes has brought his passion for working with people on the street and in the margins of society to the university campus, through a partnership with the local Tiny Home Takeout ministry serving food to the vulnerable in Kitchener-Waterloo. Each week student volunteers join Hayes in the St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church kitchen in Kitchener, preparing pizzas and soup as an extension of Hayes’ outreach ministry putting “SJ ACTS” into action.
“My intention in developing SJ ACTS (an acronym for A Chance To Serve), was to create an opportunity to practice what we preach as members of St. Jerome’s and to get out into the community to help others,” stated Hayes. “It is a Service Learning and Servant Leadership model where we develop skills of empathy, compassion, kindness, generosity of spirit, and a sense of giving or sharing of ourselves through ACTS of loving kindness. We are trying to encounter others on the margin, to see them as people, as humans, as extensions of ourselves and the indwelling Spirit that ties us together, that unites us as ONE.”
Tiny Home Takeout Fills Big Need
The Tiny Home Takeout project was initiated further to consultative work in the local community completed by Fr. Toby Collins, C.R., who served as chaplain at SJU for many years. Fr. Toby recognized the need for food service as an extension of “A Better Tent City”, offering a way of providing dignity, empowerment and food to people who struggle to make a living wage and often experience food scarcity. The concept was supported and financed by the St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church community. Food is prepared fresh in the church’s commercial kitchen for patrons who pay what they can at a walk-up take out hut in the St. Mary’s parking lot. Pizza and soup are also delivered to shut ins within the Kitchener-Waterloo region and brought to the community at “A Better Tent City”. The Tiny Home Takeout serves 300 pizzas and soup daily.
SJU’s Director, Campus Ministry, Sean Hayes
Hayes recognized that outreach opportunities for SJU students could provide valuable experiential learning opportunities locally. Through his outreach in the community and conversations with Fr. Toby and his contacts in the Congregation of the Resurrection the idea of offering support took form. SJ Acts began volunteering on Fridays in October, working very other week at the Tiny Home Takeout. Following strict COVID-19 screening and guided by full-time Chef Amy Cyr, the students work together with some of the over 100 other rotating Tiny Home Takeout volunteers in the kitchen preparing food.
The student volunteers alternate between outreach at The Working Centre (a response to unemployment and poverty in downtown Kitchener that grew out of the dedication of two St. Jerome’s College graduates Joe and Stephanie Mancini); and St. John’s Kitchen (for the past 30 years, a gathering place for people in downtown Kitchener who are experiencing homelessness, at risk of homelessness, or street involved). Over the past eight weeks, more than 20 students from SJU/University of Waterloo have volunteered for SJ Acts.
The feedback from student volunteers supporting SJ Acts has been consistently positive. Often reflective and focused on the impact of what they see as their simple contribution, students also recognize how they have benefited from the experience. Some students have enjoyed the Tiny Home Takeout experience so much that they have volunteered on their own and go to the kitchen as a group of friends on a Friday or Saturday night to help out.
“Tiny Home was a great outreach experience for my friends and I,” noted SJU student Sinead Costello. “Since our first visit we've been back a few times and have had the
| Chef Amy creates all of the recipes for
fresh soups and pizzas that
volunteers prepare daily for
offering five different options,
and allowing those served
variety and the dignity of having choice
over their food. Shown here, freshly made
dough becomes the base for the pizzas
prepared by volunteers.
privilege of getting to know the awesome volunteers and staff that make the takeout kitchen possible. It is such a friendly experience and I always leave with a warm feeling in my heart knowing that I somehow contributed to making a warm meal for someone.”
Student Mary Youssef agreed adding, "My experiences with Tiny Home Takeout and St. John’s have given me a great deal of hope for the futures of those in need. I've met countless people who are completely committed to helping others, and I love to do so as well. I couldn't have had a better experience with these places; every single person I met was welcoming, kind, and overall wonderful."
SJ Acts student Gabby DesRoches
Hayes is familiar with that shared feeling of contribution and also the desire to get out into the world to help make it a better place. In 1987, he worked with “street kids” in New York City as part of Covenant House: a full-time volunteer community that lived, prayed, and worked together. Hayes discovered that he loved working with people on the street or the margins of society and continued his work at Covenant House when he moved to Toronto. He describes this work as an extension of his self and who he wants to be.
Following his work at Covenant House, Hayes worked as a high school teacher, football coach, and Campus Minister, where he continued to focus on poverty and housing insecurity as a primary part of his role as a teacher and chaplain. He participated in food drives, a family sponsorship program, mission trips with Habitat for Humanity, and a street walk ministry called “Sandwich Patrol”, that had students and fellow teachers walking the streets and engaging with people living on the margin, bringing what Hayes described as “conversation and connection”.
“We shared gloves or hats and the bag lunch with sandwiches, juice boxes and something sweet, while ultimately sharing ourselves and being open to all those we met along the way,” said Hayes. “It filled the students and myself up each time we walked the streets…It was a way to act out our faith.”
Now at St. Jerome’s University, Hayes continues to share his passion for serving. The outreach into the community at Tiny Home Takeout, The Working Centre, and St. John’s Kitchen offers Hayes the opportunity to share what he described as his own blessings and gifts in life, while engaging students in a “learn as you do” process that teaches them valuable life lessons at the same time.
“As a member of a Catholic Christian tradition that tells me to get out there and make the world a better place I have acted on that belief,” added Hayes. “Faith without works is dead. (James 2:14).”
Photographer: Bryn Gladding Photography