St. Joseph food ministry provides a way for parishioner to honour his son

Over the past four years, St. Joseph Catholic Church has been home to a growing food ministry for the poor and homeless of Grande Prairie.

The initiative began in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the ministry’s founder Bob Boisvert wanted to ensure that aid to the city’s most vulnerable would continue in spite of pandemic restrictions. And so, in early 2020, he began going to the parish kitchen on his own once a month, preparing pancakes and sausages for a local homeless shelter called the St. Lawrence Centre.

Since then, many parishioners and organizations have found ways to contribute to this expanding ministry, each wanting to do their part to help the poor. For one person in particular, Tim Heemskeerk, the ministry has also been a way to honour the legacy of his deceased son Sebastian, who in his final years struggled with drug use and spent much of his time at the St. Lawrence Centre and with the city’s homeless.

Sebastien tragically died from a drug overdose in June 2021 at the age of 22. Through giving back to the very centre that his son would spend time at, this became a way for Tim to find some closure and healing after his son’s passing.

“It was a way for me to give back; to get out of the ‘what ifs’ around the death of Sebastien and get into the ‘what now’ – the ways of actually trying to make a difference,” the father said.

Tim Himskeerk and other members of the Knights of Columbus cooking meals on the grounds of the St. Lawrence Centre,

Thanks in part to this ministry, which today offers cooked meals and sandwiches to the St. Lawrence Centre on a weekly basis, Tim feels that presently there is more help and community resources being offered at the centre compared to when his son went there.

“I’m now able to go there, meet with the people. There’s less of a barrier. I wish it had been more like that when Sebastien was alive. We could have made a big difference together,” Tim said. “I think my son is proud. I hope when he is looking down and he sees the stuff being done for the people struggling there, he is proud.”

It was as COVID restrictions limited much of the church’s ministries that Bob Boisvert was initially stirred to find a way to keep his parish actively involved in the community, especially in offering help where it was most needed.

With this goal in mind, he asked for permission to come into the church kitchen once a month to cook a meal. He also asked the local Knights of Columbus to contribute financial support for the ingredients. This was granted, and for close to a year Bob would mask up and go into the kitchen on his own to make pancakes and sausages.

When some initial restrictions lifted in 2021, Bob was allowed to have one person join him in the kitchen. Tim Heemskerk was one of the first to participate alongside him.

“When Tim joined he really made it grow,” said Bob. “He was looking for a way to do something more for Sebastian.”

Bob’s request for help came in the month’s immediately following the death of Tim’s son, and this of course stirred the father’s desire to help even more.

Bob Boisvert and Fely Woychuk are key volunteers in St. Joseph’s food ministry,

This is only an excerpt. Read the full story in the April 2024 edition of Northern Light