Articles

Anybody Eats Here Free

Rich or poor, sharp or shabby, anybody can walk into Toronto’s Scott Mission and get a square meal and no questions asked. And they do, at the rate of 130,000 a year How come this soup kitchen is still needed in the biggest boom in our history?

JOAN DOTY September 17 1955
Articles

Anybody Eats Here Free

Rich or poor, sharp or shabby, anybody can walk into Toronto’s Scott Mission and get a square meal and no questions asked. And they do, at the rate of 130,000 a year How come this soup kitchen is still needed in the biggest boom in our history?

JOAN DOTY September 17 1955

Anybody Eats Here Free

Rich or poor, sharp or shabby, anybody can walk into Toronto’s Scott Mission and get a square meal and no questions asked. And they do, at the rate of 130,000 a year How come this soup kitchen is still needed in the biggest boom in our history?

JOAN DOTY

IN THE boom days of the Fifties when secretaries are investing in oil wells, when a quiz program can give away sixty-four thousand dollars, and when politicians are boasting about Canada’s national income of more than twelve hundred dollars per capita, the soup kitchen of the Thirties seems as outdated and remote as a typhoid epidemic.

Yet it still exists, and to one man, a short and stocky minister of the Gospel named Dr. Morris Zeidman, it is as vital today as it was during the Depression. Indeed, it is his whole world and has been for two thirds of his fifty-eight years. For two generations and in three different buildings he has worked to establish one of Canada’s largest charity houses—the Scott Mission of Toronto. And, as he directed the mission’s growth, so the mission shaped his own life.

It was the mission which inspired Zeidman, then a young Polish immigrant, to turn from Judaism to Christianity, and eventually to enter the Presbyterian ministry; it was there that he later met his wife and there that they lived for eight years; it was the mission that caused him to leave the Presbyterian church so that he could run the mission as he chose; it is there that today his wife and two daughters work with him seven days a week, nine hours a day, and where he calls chronic misfits by their first names, feeds them, clothes them, finds jobs for them, preaches to them, and even gives them his own shoes and pants.

The Scott Mission lies two miles from Toronto’s financial core, on Spadina Avenue, a broad and cosmopolitan thoroughfare, fragrant with the aromas of European bakeries, gaudy with multilingual signsan intriguing avenue speckled with kosher restaurants, fur and fabric wholesalers, and a crowded neighborhood market where kerchiefed women haggle in a variety of tongues.

Shouldered by a semi-detached house and a funeral parlor, the three-story buff brick building reflects the melting pot around it. To New Canadians and society’s backsliders alike, it doles out one hundred and thirty thousand free meals a year, as well as cash, groceries, clothing and haircuts. It sends free food parcels to families in Iron Curtain countries, offers four religious services a week, and operates an employment agency and a summer camp outside the city.

Anyone—rich or poor, saint or sinner—may walk into the mission and be given a meal without question. Some days workers have noticed welldressed men at the tables who, they presume, are there for a lark or to win a bet. Once a prosperouslooking man stopped at the mission office, told Zeidman how much he had enjoyed his meal and handed him a twenty-dollar donation.

It is entirely on these donations that the mission depends to finance its work. They pour in in the form of cash, food or used clothing from estates,

In Our Greatest Prosperity Hundreds Still Shuffle In The Bread Lines

church groups, service clubs, businessmen, wealthy widows, people who hear about the mission and even those who have been helped by it.

Zeidman’s gifts have ranged from beds to tuxedos and leftover birthday cake to hams that have rolled off delivery trucks and been brought to the mission by police.

Because he must rely on unsolicited donations, there are times when Zeidman literally doesn’t know where the next meal is coming from. One winter the mission had no desserts. The director, who insists that the men have balanced meals, priced manufactured desserts and found them too expensive for the mission’s pockets. He sat back, trusting that something would happen. It did. A Toronto department store sent him five thousand packages of Christmas puddings.

Another time, when the mission needed cups,

Zeidman put off buying them in spite of his wife’s insistence. Finally, when no more meals could be served without them, he consented to shop around, using what little money he had. As he stepped out the mission door, a truck pulled up and unloaded two hundred cups from an anonymous donor.

In the Thirties the mission was more seriously in debt than any time in its history. After exhausting a bank loan it still owed nine hundred dollars in outstanding accounts. Zeidman could see no way of clearing the debt and he hated to abuse his creditors’ good will. However, he assured his wife that they would get the money somehow. A few days later, when even his hope was draining, a cheque came in from an unknown woman in Peterborough, Ont., for nine hundred dollars—the exact amount of the debt.

Continued on page 53

Anybody Eats Here Free

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 35

In spite of the fact that Zeidman has no agents soliciting donations and his only advertising consists of a weekly notice in Toronto’s three daily newspapers, an annual news letter to past contributors and his speeches to organizations, the mission draws annual donations valued at one hundred thousand dollars.

Zeidman hands out seventy-two ! thousand dollars for relief. He spends five thousand dollars to operate the j mission’s summer camp for needy j mothers and children near Caledon, j northwest of Toronto, and three thou| sand dollars to maintain a tinned goods j supply at the mission for emergencies, j He pays twenty thousand dollars for j administration, building upkeep and employees’ salaries, which average less than two thousand dollars a year.

The mission has twelve employees, j four of whom work part time, as well | as volunteer workers. Regular volunI teers include women from Toronto | church groups who help serve meals, ¡ Miss Edna Sandiland who looks after children of mothers attending the mis¡ sion’s weekly religious service, and Mrs. Laura Webster, a middle-aged j widow, who spends five afternoons a week interviewing New Canadians and helping them find jobs. Last year she found work for more than a thousand.

Zeidman’s wife and two daughters in their twenties work with him in the mission office, sharing administration details and receiving people who come for aid. Mrs. Zeidman, a quick-moving woman of Scottish descent, with sharp features, grey hair and glasses, plays the piano for mission services and writes hymns, several of which have been published. In the office, she handles her husband’s correspondence and other management tasks, leaving him free to attend to customers.

People who come to the mission usually demand to see the director, whether it’s about a new pair of socks, a delousing job or a two-dollar donation. Some years ago a man brought a crate of oranges to the mission when the director was out. Later he telephoned Zeidman to make sure the director knew who was responsible for the gift. Zeidman was ashamed to confess he didn’t know a thing about the oranges. Since then he has ruled that workers must tell him of every donation and donor that comes to the mission. He has always acknowledged money gifts in writing.

Zeidman has also asked that no policeman be stationed near the mission or summoned unless a man is too drunk or obstreperous to listen to reason. He will not permit workers to greet customers with "What can I do for you?”; they must say "hello” or "good day.” Workers may not accuse people of taking advantage of mission aid; nor may they turn needy people away simply because the mission must go out of its way to fill their need.

Recently, a straggly haired girl of eight came to the mission for a new pair of shoes. There were none in her size so Zeidman ordered that a new pair be bought especially for her. Within a few hours seven little girls of the same age were at the mission door begging for new shoes. Five were found to be needy and five pairs of shoes were bought.

Often, on his way home from the mission at night, Zeidman has felt a tug on his coat sleeve and heard the pleading voice of a hungry man. He has always reopened the mission and

taken the man to the kitchen where he’s made him a ham sandwich or heated some tinned spaghetti.

Although the mission windows are dotted with Bible verses and religious pamphlets are displayed in the dining room, there is no compulsory religious observance apart from the grace said before each meal. Still, close to one hundred men attend the hour of worship before the first meal on Sundays; one hundred and forty children go to the mission Sunday school and another forty are enrolled in a Sunshine Class held after school on Fri*iays; and sixty women come to the .eligious service Thursday afternoons.

Each day Zeidman’s mail brings letters from people asking him to pray for them or to give them advice. He also hears frequently from people be has helped in the past.

Four years ago Zeidman found a job for an Austrian and later heard that the man was in a Toronto mental hospital, awaiting deportation. The director visited him regularly, took full responsibility for him on bis release so that he could remain in Canada, and found him another job. Three years later the Austrian wrote Zeidman from a British Columbia logging camp, thanking him and enclosing a fivedollar donation.

Recently, a Toronto businessman telephoned Zeidman and made an appointment to see him. When he arrived, six feet tall and expensively dressed, he handed the director twentyfive dollars. Zeidman thanked him and asked his name for receipt purposes. Tears came to the businessman’s eyes. "Don’t you remember me?” he asked. "Not long ago I ate all my meals here.”

He wasn’t by any means a typical case, but not all of the men lined outside the mission are ne’er-do-wells. I found that out when I went to Scott Mission and watched a day unfold there. Some of its customers are just down on their luck; some are ill; some have tried but can’t find work; some are too old to hold jobs and some need help to stretch pensions.

In the shaggy queue outside the mission at eight-thirty in the morning was a dark wrinkled man in his late forties, dressed in a soiled blue shirt and blue jeans. He was talking to a tall grey-haired companion, who leaned against the building with his hands in the pockets of his baggy black pants.

"Pension’s all gone for the month,” the dark man said.

"How much do you get?” the tall man asked sharply.

"Thirty-seven fifty a month. But I can’t work, you know. I take fits.”

While in the army during the war, his skull was fractured in a motor accident. He has suffered from epilepsy ever üince. He tried a series of TäctörjT'jobs, leaving every time he had an attack. Finally, he drifted to Toronto where he uses his government pension to rent a seven-dollar-a-week room and depends on the mission for food and clothing.

■^Dr. Zeidman’s going to get me a regular job chauffeuring,” the tall man said. "Haven’t held a steady job for four years now. Been drinking too much, I guess. I’ve quit now though. Did you know I used to be a cop?”

The dark man’s eves grew bigger.

"In New Brunswick before the war. I got a couple of kids there. I’d like to go back there someday, but not like this.”

Farther down the line, a strapping twenty-year-old was asking a stooped old-timer if he thought the mission would have any odd jobs for him. He said a factory had laid him off the day before his unemployment insurance became valid and he had to get work

because his wife was expecting a second baby.

"Sure,” said the old-timer. "I used to get work here before my arthritis got so bad.” He stared gloomily at his twisted hand. "Now I got to live off the old-age pension.”

Standing silently in the queue, away from the knots of gossiping men, was a stocky Italian of twenty-two, with long unkempt black hair and snapping brown eyes. He wore a maroon shirt over a soiled white T-shirt and blue jeans. He learned English from soldiers in Naples, where during the war a bomb

wiped out his house and his family and a German sniper shot him in the leg. The wound bothers him now as he walks from factory to factory looking for work. In two years in Canada he has worked steadily for only six months and picked up part-time jobs the rest of the time. But he was optimistic that he would soon land a job that would pay him a regular salary.

All this time, as more ragged men drifted into the line-up, workers inside the mission were busy at their morning tasks. The director had already conducted a fifteen-minute devotional

service for the staff in the mission office at the back of the building.

In the main hall a woman helper was loading tables with plates of quartered Spanish onions, white rolls and fancy sandwiches—pinwheels, banana rolls, and dainty lobster bites. The sandwiches—left over from a party—had been sent to the mission that morning. A bakery had donated the rolls.

The hall looked shabby and cheerless in the early morning light, with its dark maroon tile flooring and walls painted half maroon and half pale green. Apart from ten tables set up for the first one

hundred diners, the only furniture consisted of a carved upright piano, an old-fashioned radio on legs and a corner bookshelf sagging under the weight of hundreds of hymn books. Rubber plants lined the windows; pots of blue and white hydrangea sat on the piano. On the wall by the door, religious pamphlets hung under the sign, Take One.

In the kitchen at the back of the hall, a worker was busy piling sliced ham and sliced bologna onto plates. Two giant kettles of water—enough to make fifteen gallons of coffee—were

heating on the black six-burner cookstove. Beside it, thirty gallons of potato soup simmered on gas hotplates. The soup was part of a donation of five hundred cases from the Campbell Soup Company.

Downstairs in the basement another woman was sorting clothing from a heap of garments on the floor. This was one of the two afternoons a week when women and children may come in for clothing. (Clothing is given out to men on two other afternoons each week.) Racks and shelves held every type of apparel, from socks to dressing

gowns. One rack was set aside for more valuable clothing, such as overcoats, suits and tuxedos. The tuxedos go to men with jobs as waiters. Trousers are the most precious item around the mission because they wear out so quickly, and, as they have sides value in the used-clothing market, are often stolen from men in flophouses. Once a man turned up at the mission in a blanket. He’d been robbed and had all his clothing stolen.

At five minutes to ten, Zeidman unlocked the mission hall door to admit the first one hundred hungry men.

Removing their caps, they shuffled across the room, filled up the tables farthest from the door, and sat studying the bread in front of them.

After Zeidman said grace, he brought in a soup tureen on rollers. For a moment the sharp smell of steaming potatoes overcame the odor of onions and unwashed clothing that was spreading through the room. As the director moved from table to table dishing out soup, women followed him with trays piled high with meat and cheese and crackers.

The men ate quickly and hungrily, bending over their food. Many had difficulty chewing; they ripped bits from the rolls and softened them with their soup. They speared onions with their forks and munched cheerfully on the fancy lobster bites.

In fifteen minutes the men were finished. Still chewing the last mouthful, they got up from the tables, dropped uneaten buns or bread in their pockets and walked to the door where they helped themselves to loaves of bread or boxes of rolls placed in a carton.

Mission workers spent the next fifteen minutes clearing tables and setting them up for the next shift. In the scullery off the kitchen, two women were washing dishes that would be used again before all the four hundred men expected that morning would be fed.

Back in the mission office, Mrs. Margaret Rowan, the Zeidmans’ eldest daughter, was talking on the telephone with a man who wanted a part-time worker to cut grass and paint a cellar. She was an attractive girl in a navyblue sweater, tartan skirt and flatheeled shoes. She had no sooner put down the receiver when a man with hollow cheeks opened the door and shouted, "Any place I can make one or two dollars quick?” She gave him the address of the man who had just called.

“Got a New Club Bag, Doc?”

The next customers in the mission office were men asking for haircuts. Zeidman wrote their names and addresses on forms entitling them to free shaves and haircuts at the Barbers’ Academy where they would become guinea pigs for student barbers. Three men had no permanent addresses. One had spent the previous night in a flophouse, another in a parked car and the other in the park.

A bouncy little man with a weathered face called to the director, "How do you like my new shoes, doctor? Pants fit fine, too.” The week before, the i man had come to the mission desperate for shoes and trousers. Zeidman, finding they wore the same size, brought from home some almost-new beige slacks and brown shoes he seldom I wore.

"Don’t suppose you could get me a new club bag, doctor?” the man went i on. ‘‘This one’s practically rotten. Things have been bad all week. Made only two dollars on cleaning jobs. Look here.”

He pulled a raincoat and a groundsheet out of the bag.

"This is what I use for sleeping out. Soon I’m heading over to Leamington to see if I can get some hoeing jobs. Sure could use a new club bag.”

Zeidman told him to come back the next day and he’d see if he could dig one up.

The director sat down at his desk to open his morning mail. A letter, written in pencil on the letterhead of a Toronto jail, began: "I am now at

the above address and would be pleased to have a visit from you.”

A woman wearing a torn coat over a faded print dress came to ask for

groceries. Mrs. Rowan took a file card from a box on the counter. "There are seven children in your family, is that right?” The woman nodded. "Your husband broke both his legs last year. Is he still not working?”

"No, he has no work.” The woman spoke with a foreign accent. "He is a stone cutter. His company uses Italian stone. There are storms and the ships are delayed, so there is no work for awhile.”

Mrs. Rowan called her sister, Elaine Zeidman, a slim dark girl with brown eyes and pale face bare of make-up, who brought the woman a bag of groceries containing three dollars’ worth of tinned goods.

And so it went all morning. In the afternoon, while helpers distributed clothing to forty women and children, the office staff was busy filling every kind of human need. A German woman wanted to register herself and two sons for summer camp. A couple who had just arrived from Alberta asked for groceries to tide them over until the husband found work. A woman needed four dollars for bus fare to visit her daughter in a mental hospital seventy miles away. Three schoolchildren gave the director two cartons of tinned goods and two dollars, a donation from their class. A straggly haired woman in the last stages of pregnancy ordered a layette. A dozen men came in for lunches or certificates for haircuts. A man deposited two cartons of clothing inside the mission door. Another man, who had recently got a caretaking job through the mission, dropped a twodollar bill on the office counter and hurried out.

Ten minutes before the mission closed at five-thirty, a man in his twenties burst into the office. "I can have a job in a restaurant tomorrow if I can get a newpairof pants,” he said.

"Do you have to have them tonight?” asked Mrs. Rowan.

He explained that he couldn’t have the job if he wore his jeans, and he had to let the restaurant owner know right away.

"I’ll fix you up,” said Zeidman getting up from his desk.

When the director returned from the basement, a middle-aged woman was waiting to speak to him about her daughter. Zeidman told his family to go home without him.

It was six-thirty that night before the director arrived home—a nineroomed house in a central city district that houses five members of his family, including two sons still at school. He just had time to clean up, put on his clerical collar, which he wears only on special occasions, eat dinner and drive five miles to a home and school association meeting at which he was guest speaker. His day ended at midnight; the next would begin before seven. Unlike most people he could not look forward to a week end of rest.

Zeidman suspects he would not know what to do with leisure time if he had any. When he first came to Canada at sixteen he worked ten hours a day in a machine shop and attended night classes to get his high school matriculation.

On week ends he used to drop into the Christian Synagogue on Elizabeth Street in Toronto’s Chinatown district. Founded in 1912 by the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the mission dispensed free medical care and held social and religious classes for the streams of Jewish immigrants who came to Canada before World War I.

Dr. J. P. MacPherson Scott, convener of home missions for the Presbyterian Church, and minister of a city church, took an interest in the bright young Jewish boy. A man of

Zeidman’s build, with a thin mustache and stem determined face, he spent hours feeding the boy’s curiosity j about Jesus Christ and convincing him that Christianity was the fulfillment of Judaism. After attending classes and studying scripture for several years, Zeidman accepted Christianity, a decision that cost him Jewish friends and disappointed his family in Poland.

Not long afterward, Scott offered Zeidman the opportunity of entering the Presbyterian ministry and working at the Christian Synagogue. Zeidman took it. From the time he started theological training, he was assigned ; to the mission as a student helper. He i was ordained into the ministry in 1925 and appointed mission director in 1926.

While a student he met the daughter of devout Scottish Presbyterians in the city, who worked voluntarily at the mission visiting poor families stricken by the flu epidemic of 1918. The mission director married them and for eight years they lived on the third floor of the Christian Synagogue.

The Zeidmans had their most difficult financial times during the Thirties and Forties. In depression years they fed up to a thousand men a day. The number of unemployed decreased during World War II and public sympathies and savings turned from charity to the war effort.

In 1941 Zeidman broke with the Presbyterian church home mission board which, he felt, was restricting his efforts to expand his charity work. By acting independently, he reasoned, he would have a freer hand to raise and spend money. On its side, the board was unhappy about some of Zeidman’s preaching methods and, while it favored his charity work, it considered he was spending mission funds unwisely and making unreasonable requests for additional money from the church. The parting left wound» at the time but today the church fully supports Zeidman’s work.

The church sold the Elizabeth Street building and did not open another Jewish mission in Toronto. To Zeidman, the break meant he no longer had a salary, a place to live, or a place to work.

Mrs. Zeidman remembers he was shaking and perspiring when he signed a five-year lease for another building, this one on Bay Street in what was then mid-town Toronto. He had cashed insurance policies and she had sold a diamond ring and other jewelry to pay the rent and salaries of three employees. The Zeidmans drew no salary the first year and to make extra money Margaret Zeidman, then fourteen, worked after school as a waitress in Kresge’s. Five years of careful management and hard work built a successful mission, now named for Dr. Scott and hilled as "Non-denominational and strictly Evangelical.”

In 1948 the mission building was leased at a higher rate than the Zeidmans could match, to a restaurant next door which wanted to add a cocktail bar. Once more on the street, the Zeidmans found the present Spadina Avenue building for sale for thirty-two thousand dollars. They scraped up six thousand dollars—not enough for a down payment—and launched their first and last appeal for funds which brought in four thousand dollars. The owners accepted the ten-thousand-dol¡ lar down payment with two mortgages and the building was the Zeidmans’. Donations to the building fund came in at such a rate that in two years the ; debt was paid off.

Today, the man with a mission, who broke all the rules, is sitting on the peak of his world—a world built solely on faith. People call it uncanny. Zeidman calls it Providence. ★