Consider this: it’s 1930-something, you are running a little shelter in Edmonton, in the middle of what will become known as the Great Depression. Thousands of people, mostly men, unemployed, riding rails, haggard, hungry, many on the verge of relinquishing hope, come to you for their daily meal, which—because of the times all you can find—is porridge.
But porridge is not nothing, so you daily rise to feed as many people as possible, to welcome all as they file through; later to greet some at an evening gospel service. And while you are bone exhausted by the end of the day, you go to bed thinking about how to prepare for another.
Then one day a man walks in and asks you, “If you had your way what would you like to do today?” Now at this point you may, quite deservedly say, I’d like to take the day off and rest, maybe travel to Jasper. But what Hillie Edwardson, who along with her husband founded Hope Mission, says, “I’d like to give these men a meal of pork and beans, bread and coffee, all they can eat.”
Now the man happens to be the manager of a grocery wholesale enterprise known as MacDonald’s Consolidated. His business and warehouse is down the block and across the street. He had long watched the work of Hillie Edwardson, even dropping in from time to time. Her strength of character and cheerful presence, which endeared her to people, won his respect and admiration. So, to Hillie’s surprise and delight, he responded at once to her reply and set the machinery in motion.
Hundreds of pounds of beans were rounded up, gallons of mustard and ketchup, and vats of coffee. Packing plants sent in bacon, bakeries donated bread in abundance. The Harmony White Lunch restaurant cooked beans in large drums all night and all the next day, and then transported it to the hall by truck. Mrs. Edwardson, recalling the event in a somewhat jubilant Board Report, some 80 years ago, wrote, “What a thrill it was to see 4000 men have all they wanted to eat!”
There’s an allusion here to the gospel story where Christ miraculously feeds 4000. And no doubt, Hillie Edwardson, is intentionally noting a correlation. That 1930’s day, after all, was a day marked by hope, and in some sense no less miraculous, in a time when hope had dissipated and so many despaired.
Today, proclaimed by our mayor, is Hope Mission Day. And so we celebrate the history and ministry of the Mission. A ministry that has long understood that hope begins with a meal, but can become much more when offered in love and respect.