Toronto Helps – More volunteers help with sandwich runs to the homeless

Numbers of new volunteers increase at Project417 grassroots program for Toronto’s homeless – Thanks to Social Networking , Blogging and Search Engine Optimization:

2009 has been an exciting year here at Project417. We’ve seen a marked increase in the number of local Toronto volunteers willing to come out and help us on our sandwich runs to the homeless

A sandwich run is simply volunteers delivering nutritious bag lunches to homeless street people by walking well traveled routes in the downtown Toronto area where street involved people live. It is a relational outreach – a grassroots community building activity – in addition to delivering a meal to a hungry person, hopefully friendly conversations take place and bridges of trust strengthened.

Volunteers handing out bag lunches

Volunteers handing out bag lunches

Project417’s volunteer ranks have been swelled this year by caring people from all walks of life, from young teens to working adults – bank executives, health care professionals, singles clubs like Meet Market Adventures, whole families and even the cast of Toronto’s smash hit “We Will Rock You”. This past year we have hosted more than two thousand volunteers. Most of these new volunteers found out about us through search engines like Google. If you follow that Google link you’ll see that Project417’s sandwich runs are ranked first and three other results relate to our sandwich runs to the homeless.  Even Microsoft’s brand new offering Bing -which replaces their MSN Live search – ranks the MissionLog right here first and five or six other Project417 results including volunteer videos on Facebook.

I’ve worked hard over the last few years to improve our search results so that Project417 can more easily connect with volunteers, because, in the end, the beneficiaries are Toronto’s homeless and under-housed. We can’t afford professional SEO services or IT  Web 2.0 and 3.0 consulting, so all of this sucess has been home grown sweat equity. By far the biggest success has been WordPress.com – where you’re reading this blog right now – the MissionLog or missionlog.wordpress.com – WordPress is one of the most popular blogging platforms. It’s free and the blogs don’t carry any advertising. It is easy to use and set up your own blog, but has powerful options like tagging, gadgets, video and topical categories that really help  optimize your search engine ranking. There are a host of other online tools I’ve used to promote this blog and the Project417 official website and I’ve listed some of them at the end of this post.

Here at Project417, we’ve been facilitating sandwich runs for almost twenty years – our Director, Joe Elkerton first started going out to visit the homeless in the late eighties with a handful of college friends when reports of deaths among the homeless outside on the streets first surfaced in the news. This was before government sponsored programs like StreetHelp and Streets to Homes. The main focus of the program is not simply delivering food to hungry street people. The key factor is communication through conversations with our friends on the street. We don’t try to be experts or counselors, rather we try to help our volunteers – ordinary people – engage with the homeless. This is true community demonstrated by the caring act of delivering a meal.

Anyone can volunteer with us by invitation by emailing volunteer@project417.com – After taking part in our orientation presented by experienced team leaders the night of the sandwich run we head out on the streets for two or three hours. Find out how truly liberating this volunteer experience can be – to step outside your personal comfort zone and meet our homeless friends on their own grounds.

You can help get the word out online – visit any of the following links and share them in your blog or on facebook, or post them on Digg or Reddit. There’s lots of photos and even video of our volunteer experience.

Project417 Sandwich Run to the Homeless

TOStreets – another blog on Windows Live Spaces

TOstreets on MySpace – the MySpace page

Project417 – The Facebook page – become a fan

Canada News Blog – a more general blog by Canayjun (moi)

Hogtown Prophets – Listening to prophetic voices from the street

And some of these great link sharing sites –

Twine.com – visit Homeless on twine

Technorati – Homeless blog search by Outreach417

Twitter – follow @canayjun on Twitter

Delicious.com – Outreach417’s bookmarks – hundreds!

[I’ll post more here soon]

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What is a Sandwich Run?

Have a real conversation with our friends.A sandwich run is simply volunteers delivering nutritious bag lunches to homeless street people by walking well travelled routes in the downtown area where street people live.  It is a relational outreach – a grassroots community activity – in addition to delivering a meal to a hungry person, hopefully dialogue will occur and bridges of trust strengthened.

Here at Project417 Ekklesia Inner City Minsitries, we’ve been facilitating sandwich runs for almost twenty years. The main focus of the ministry is not simply delivering food to hungry street people. The key factor is communication through conversations with our friends on the street. We don’t try to be experts or counselors, rather we try to help our volunteers – ordinary people – engage with the homeless. This is true community demonstrated by the caring act of delivering a meal.

Anyone can volunteer with us by invitation after taking part in our orientation presented by experienced team leaders. Find out how truly liberating this volunteer experience can be – to step outside your personal comfort zone and meet our homeless friends on their own grounds.

Many churches have taken up “sandwich runs” in Toronto as a favorite activity for youth groups. But in their eagerness to provide an experience for their own youth, they overlook the deeper needs of the homeless they want to help. They focus on quantity, not quality – the sandwich runs become a mad dash around the city dropping bag lunches with as many homeless as possible, often even without asking the recipient simply ” Would you like a bag lunch?” I encounter these groups all the time, often as many as thirty or forty teens or younger children often accompanied by only a single adult. It becomes their charitable duty, rather than a ministry to reach people. While our friends on the street often tell us that they are encouraged by seeing the young people, and are thankful for the food, how can they be expected to engage in meaningful dialogue with someone who is fifteen or younger?  They crave mature discourse.  It would be wonderful to see more adults on sandwich runs – people who our street friends can relate to, and can understand some of the uniquely adult challenges they face such as family break-ups, job loss, abuse, addictions, psychological distress, relationship issues and so on.

Furthermore, these well meaning church groups are actually putting the safety of their youth at risk in not partnering with an inner city organization that provides experience, guidance and street saftey for their groups. I’ve actually seen church groups of dozens of children being herded by a single adult through Crack Central in Toronto with boxes of lunches and attempting to give lunches to dealers engaged in drug transactions. Not everyone on the streets, or in the parks of Toronto is homeless, or friendly and safe. I regularily encounter sleeping homeless people on street corners with more than a dozen bag lunches and other sundry styrofoam food trays piled up by their head or feet, obviously dropped there by an inexperienced group. And I doubt whether even one of them was prepared to check if that sleeping person was actually still breathing, or would know what to do if they discovered the person were in some physical distress.

I’ve had self-important church elders and youth pastors tell me “We’re doing God’s work and are under the divine protection of Jesus Christ”.  Christ doesn’t promise us safety from harm – on the contrary, He guarantees us conflict and confrontation if we follow Him in his work. It is wise to be prepared. At Project417 Ekklesia, we take that seriously. The safety of our groups is paramount, as is the effectiveness of our ministry to the homeless. Come on out and join us. Full details and calendar online at http://project417.com/sandwich

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