Out of the Cold’s impact impossible to measure

April 2023
Cindy Richter

When the end of March arrives, most people are overjoyed to celebrate the coming of spring; however, for the guests of Hamilton Out of the Cold (HOOTC), April’s arrival means the HOOTC season has ended. The promise of hot and nutritious meals accompanied by the availability of toiletries, socks, hats and gloves, delivered by kind and attentive volunteers becomes a thing of the past until November’s chill returns.

That’s the way it’s been for 25 years. Established in Dec. 1997 by retired teachers, Gloria Colizza and Sister Carole Anne Guay, HOOTC has grown to a program serving hot meals five nights a week from 11 locations in the Hamilton area. The Jewish community took on one night every week under the strong leadership of Gloria Silverman z”l in 1999. The practice of hospitality and caring for the stranger are commandments too good to ignore! 

When COVID-19 affected our ability to offer sit-down meals, we adapted to our current takeout service model. On average, between 200 to 250 meals of soup, entrée of chicken or beef, two sides, fruit and home baking are sent out from November to March. Guests are encouraged to take more than one bag and most often they do. Occasionally, there are leftover meals which are immediately taken to restock empty community fridges in the downtown core or the meals are sent to The Hub, a downtown drop-in doing a superb job in the midst of frightening need. 

With the cost of housing and food prices, it is no surprise that our group’s 2,400 meals will sustain a lot of people. But numbers don’t really mean much.  People and their stories do. There’s the middle-aged woman living in the car of her recently deceased mother; the homeless folks who accept blankets and socks to replace wet and dirty ones; the senior who delivers meals to his homebound neighbours; the immigrant learning a new language yet able to acknowledge us by saying, “Good behaviour,” as we handed him his meal; guest Bruno who says, “For you, a bag is essentially a meal but for me, it actually represents three meals ... The Hamilton Out of The Cold program represents my weekly outing — that is in addition to easing my food budget constraints ... I am expressing my gratitude for your efforts, energy and commitment for myself and for other clients who benefit from your devotion.”

Our board and coordinators will soon be investigating the possibility of returning to our original model of inviting guests inside churches for a few hours to get warm, shmooze and receive a brief release from the challenges of the day. Possibly some sites will continue the takeout model. Regardless, we are sustained by donations to the Beth Jacob/Out of the Cold Fund and in-kind donations from individuals, foundations, synagogues, and businesses.

Our volunteers are simply the best: the home bakers who infuse their items with goodness, the cooks and packagers who don’t disappoint even when ice and snow seem to be prevailing, the runners who move the meals outside to the curb and remain to chat with the guests. They’re living examples of what the Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman z”l once said. “Pray as if everything depended on God; act as if everything depended on you.” 

We are so proud to represent the values of our Hamilton Jewish community and look forward to November. If you’d like to volunteer with next season’s Out of The Cold, email c-richter@sympatico.ca.