Sharing the story of oneRoof

Matthew 22:34-46

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the
Sadducees speechless, they met together. One of
them, a legal expert, tested him.  “Teacher, what is
the greatest commandment in the Law?”
 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with
all your heart, with all your being,and with all your
mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment. 
And the second is like it: You must love your
neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the
Prophets depend on these two commands.”
Now as the Pharisees were gathering, Jesus asked
them,  “What do you think about the Christ? Whose
son is he?” “David’s son,” they replied.
He said, “Then how is it that David, inspired by the
Holy Spirit, called him Lord when he said,  The Lord
said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right side until I turn your
enemies into your footstool’? If David calls him Lord,
how can he be David’s son?” Nobody was able to
answer him. And from that day forward nobody
dared to ask him anything.


Jesus is still teaching in the temple when he’s asked what is the greatest commandment in the Law?  It’s another attempt to see if Jesus fits in the mold of others’ expectations, and his answer (which one might argue is a cornerstone for Christianity) says that You must love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind…[and] You must love your neighbour as you love yourself.  This wasn’t a new teaching – in fact Jesus is quoting both Deuteronomy (6:5) and Leviticus (19:8) as he reminds those listening – that love has always been the greatest commandment.  But who is our neighbour?

When we talk about neighbours what comes to mind?

For me – it’s that old quote, Good fences make good neighbours…which I didn’t realize came from a poem from Robert Frost (Mending Wall), who questions the

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

We wall out a lot in our lives – in attempt to keep ourselves “safe.”  In times of covid – that imaginary wall between us and the US, especially until November 3rd never felt thick enough.  But the minute you start walling out one group of people, you find that it’s too easy to do it to others, and you risk not meeting the neighbours in need around us. 

This week, I had the opportunity to take a tour of oneRoof’s Youth Services at 35 Sheldon Ave N – where they run a drop in centre in the daylight hours through their facility at and then an overnight shelter just around the corner on King St.  There – the model of loving neighbours as you love yourself takes an important focus.  Believing that one youth on the street is one too many, Fund Developer Bonnie Kropf said often the most important work they do tearing down those walls that have been put up around youth to make them feel isolated, to ensure that the youth is recognized first and not their situation, to love and provide compassion and support and a listening ear.  Let’s listen to some of their stories:

Homlessness has been…(Youtube link)

Bad circumstances and bad relationships do not implicate that the individual is bad – these are kids who have had no other choice but to live on the streets, and in listening to these stories of youth who have experienced oneRoof’s compassion and help, is powerful.  oneRoof provides opportunities for youth, through their gardening program initiated this past summer, as well as the Bike Repair and Woodworking Shop, teaching important life skills with the goal of independence (particularly through their SEE – Streets to employment program).  At oneRoof, youth have the chance to be fed, clothed, access to hygiene items and food hampers, laundry and shower facilities – these youth are given a new start, get medical checkups, and help to ensure they have all their necessary identification documents such as birth certificates, drivers licenses, etc.  oneRoof is also in the fundraising stages for what they call “modular builds” establishing permanent “tiny homes” for youth to continue to take steps at finding new hope, and new life.

Loving our neighbours means offering whatever help we can, whether it’s through needed donations of money or gift cards to grocery stores, toothbrushes (no toothpaste), underwear, socks, bottled water, pump soap refills (not bar soap), and even dixie cups/those little paper cups like McDonalds uses for ketchup dispensing.  At one point there was an ask for feminine hygiene products and wonderfully like toothpaste, they have so much that they don’t know what to do with.  They’re even looking for a Keurig machine (because they were donated with a whole pile of cups) or can openers or a coffee grinder (for the same reason of being donated a whole bunch of coffee beans), if you can go to Costco – they’d love the big containers of saran wrap or tinfoil. 

Loving our neighbours means holding the humanity of others up to our own, witnessing to the need in our midst, and together creating a community that doesn’t resort to walling in or walling out, instead allowing for the opportunities for our lives to touch.  This is not easy work.  The compassion required to care for all is exhausting – but that means our work is even more important.  It takes all of us demonstrating this love that does not allow for part measures – loving God and neighbour demands that we love with all our heart, all our being, all our mind.  When we love this way, we do so in order that our world might be defined by love, and not by the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

In planning for this service, I reached out to an individual to share their experience of oneRoof, and I’ll share it now, reading it as they wrote it. 

I first heard of oneROOF 20 years ago, when it was just “Roof” at their old location. I was 15-16 at the time, and I had left my parent’s home due to some turbulence during that time of my life. I was staying wherever I could (mostly at friends’ houses, but nothing was permanent). I tended to make friends easily with other teens who were going through the same type is stuff. I remember vividly that there wasn’t any food around. We would go to Roof, and they would ask us to go to the basement, where the food was kept. I remember going through those shelves, being able to pick out what I needed. The staff would even say “hey, do you need some frozen food? How about cereal? Here, have some of this..” and they would just be so incredibly nice and generous. I actually loved going to Roof, despite my current situation. They had medical personal that helped me with very personal questions a 16 year old girl would have.

One time when I was there, I saw a smiling couple who had made a huge plate of sandwiches for everyone. I was so hungry that day, so I hesitantly walked over, had a sandwich, and said “thank you.” The woman (wife, I’m assuming) just smiled back at me. She nodded her head and that was that. No questions, nobody asking me why I was so hungry. That meant a LOT at the time. That woman looked so proud, she was beaming. I’ll never forget her.

Eventually, I was able to make amends with my parents and I moved back home. We are very close now, and I know it can’t be that way for everyone, but I am grateful that it was that way for me.

Roof provided a safe place. A place I could eat when I was hungry, or get access to valuable resources. They gave me toothpaste, and deodorant. They provided sexual education. They had jobs posted from the Job Bank. However, the most important thing that Roof provided to me was non-judgement. They really just wanted to help me, and my friends, in any way they could.

Now, I am 36 years old. I’m married with a family of my own and I’m working in an amazing career.  I often look at the life I live now, and think that there was a point in my young life that I believed none of this was obtainable for me. I thought only the lucky people got those lives. It is SO important that we, as adults, guide our troubled youths to a better life. Without judging them. They are young, some are angry, some have been exposed to trauma and neglect….sometimes you don’t know how they ended up at a place like Roof. One of the many things you can do is try and guide them towards a full, successful life. Volunteer, donate. And sometimes, all it takes is a sandwich and a smile. 🙂 cheesy, I know, but it’s true.

(Maya Angelou) People will forget what you said, people [might even] forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.  If loving our neighbours is as simple as a sandwich and a smile, if someone’s life and dignity and self-worth can be restored by something as simple as a toothbrush, a shower and clean change of clothes then let us together learn to love God by loving our neighbours with all we can – with our whole hearts, beings, and minds.  May it be so.  


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