Thursday, November 26, 2015

541 Eatery & Exchange

Every now and then, you come across a really creative and well-thought-out approach to being missional. During a recent trip to Hamilton Ontario, Wendy & I had the privilege of visiting one.

The 541 Eatery and Exchange is a remarkable ministry set in the Barton Street area of Hamilton; the area is recognized as one of the top three most-impoverished urban neighbourhoods in Canada.   
Hamilton, the "Steel City", has a significant place in my family's history: it was where they settled after emigrating from Scotland. Also of great significance: my grandfather first heard the gospel at the Caroline Street Mission during the Great Depression, and Christianity was introduced to our family. Many years later, Wendy & I lived there as newlyweds.

Driving to "the 541", as everyone calls it, I was a little shocked at how run-down the area has become. This was once a vibrant neighbourhood. Today, I'd estimate that about 70% of the shops we passed were either boarded up or empty. The side streets revealed houses, block after block, that were occupied but in various levels of disrepair.

But in the midst of this area, there is the 541 Eatery and Exchange. It is a testimony to what can happen when large suburban churches, local businesspeople, and missional-minded Christians put their heads together.

Without the financial backing of the businesspeople, and the generous donations from the larger churches, the 541 couldn't exist. Many of their volunteers who make it happen day-in and day-out are also from the churches that helped create the ministry. It's a great example of what can happen when resources are pooled.

But it's the Button Jars that everyone talks about. You'll hear stories about the Buttons long before you even see the front door of the 541. Everyone knows and loves the Buttons.

When you purchase a coffee or snack or sandwich, every patron has the opportunity to "buy" a button for one dollar. You then transfer your button from the "Buy A Button" jar, and place it in the "Take A Button" jar. Simple as that. Buy as many as you'd like.
What makes this so awesome is that other patrons -- the ones who live in the area and are struggling to make ends meet -- can use up to four buttons per meal from the "Take A Button" jar, if they don't have enough money to pay for it.

Wendy & I sat in the 541, drinking our coffees while hearing stories about the local people who were being positively impacted, and we noticed how the clientele was pretty evenly divided between people supporting the ministry, and those benefiting from it. Some people were buying buttons, and others were using them. Everybody was friendly, and the tables were crowded with people.

As we left the 541 and drove away, it was clear that there is a lot of work to be done in that area of Hamilton. But it was very exciting and encouraging to see what some local churches, businesspeople, and missional-minded Christians have planted on Barton Street.

And now I've joined the ranks of those who love to talk about the Buttons.

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