University Settlement: A Downtown Institution

It’s a damp autumn evening and more than 50 people fill Grange Park, eagerly awaiting entrance to University Settlement’s Out of the Cold program. Tonight, they will be given not only a warm place to sleep, but a healthy dinner, evening snack, and breakfast the following morning.

University Settlement has become an institution in the downtown community since they opened their doors in 1910. A multiservice agency, University Settlement offers everything from daycare to geriatric care. Program manager Toby Druce refers to the organization as a Swiss army knife, able to lend a hand in almost any situation.

The Out of the Cold program is one of many throughout the Greater Toronto Area, but stands out for its robust food program. “It feels like our whole reputation is based on our food program,” says Druce, who oversees the success of the program.

Each week clients receive their dinner, complete with salad and at least two protein choices. Fresh fruit is available for dessert, in addition to a small dish of ice cream. Clients then prepare their beds and enjoy the community they have built. Before quiet hour, a second, smaller meal is offered as an evening snack.

A single cook is responsible for preparing a hearty meal to feed over 50 clients each week and is a beloved addition to the program for her Caribbean flavours, heavy use of spices, and balanced meal options.

A critical part of University Settlement’s Out of the Cold program, says Druce, is the support it receives from Second Harvest as the majority of the food served comes off the Second Harvest truck.

When asked what the food program at University Settlement would look like without Second Harvest donations, Druce explains, “we would have a food program, but the food we serve wouldn’t be good food. People are drawn here because they can eat well and relax. Without Second Harvest we couldn’t get them in here.”

Second Harvest’s support for University Settlement goes beyond the Out of the Cold program. This past summer, Second Harvest provided over 2,500 lunches to University Settlement’s children’s summer camp, for its Feeding Our Future program in partnership with Sodexo, helping ensure that inner city kids are able to receive nutritious lunches.

Whether through its Out of the Cold Program or summer camp lunch program, it is clear that at University Settlement, food offers a unique opportunity to bring people together, to nourish, and to comfort. In this, it is a powerful tool for personal change.