Community takes on a different look when there are 300+ people in the room enjoying time with each other.

News 100 yellowBy Pepper Parr

February 13, 2017



Everyone needs a place to go; a place where you can congregate with people you like and be accepted for who and what you are.

Some head for the Legion to meet up with friends, others have made the Seniors’ Centre their social headquarters.

A lot of business people belong to a social club; Burlington has four Rotary Clubs.

There are all kinds of places where people gather for the social interaction we all need.

Wellington job board

Friday night community – when Wellington Square United Church hosts 350+ for dinner and socializing. The couple of dozen volunteers make it happen.

Wellington Square United Church has a really large group of people who gather on Friday evenings to enjoy a meal and get caught up with their friends.

We talked to Lisa Lunski who runs a program at Wellington Square – we made a mistake.

If you want to talk to Lisa meet with her any time other than Friday evening. She can somehow carry on a conversation with a person and at the same time greet people she knows by name as they pass by.

It’s an amazing skill that she uses effortlessly – As I interviewed Lisa I wondered if I was getting the full story and if I really had her full attention.

When I reviewed my notes – I had most of what I needed. During the 20 minutes or so that we talked she managed to greet 30 to 35 people.

Lunski, runs a household with five children, several of them adopted. She is the Friday Night Community coordinator at Wellington Square United Church.

Pic # 5 student volunteers

Addison Wood, Sierra Campbell (both in Grade 9 and attend Wellington Square), Angelica Alves (Grade 11 at Assumption)

Lunski explains that “Every Friday we join together and reconnect with friends. Some folks are there every Friday and when we don’t see them they are missed. Friends hold each other accountable and even take it upon themselves to find out why another was absent. It is always a joy when folks come in our doors who we have not seen in a long time.

Lisa with deaf man

Lisa Lunski with a Friday Night Community guest.

“We continue to have new friends come to volunteer each week. We appreciate the patience folks show when taking people under their wing and walking alongside them with kindness and grace.”

People from the Meeting House in Burlington come to prepare, serve and clean up after the meal. A group shows up each week from Eaglesfield Korean Church, with open hearts for serving and clean the dirtiest of dirty dishes each and every week.

Pic # 4 three woman from the Korean church

Jeong-soon, Sofia, Heesoon, from Eaglesfield Korean Community Church.

Everyone at some point faces a crisis. In December of 2013 the city experienced an ice storm that took power out of hundreds of homes – north Burlington was hardest hit. Farmers needed electricity to pump water for their cattle. Chicken farmers needed generators to keep the electricity going in their buildings.

Hundreds gathered in the fire hall in Kilbride to share information and get the help they needed.

The following year the east of Burlington got hit by what we look back on and call an instant flood. Once again hundreds of homes we damaged; on was moves a bit off its foundation. The creeks in the east end of the city were not able to handle the rush of water; people needed help.

The citizens and corporations of Burlington raised just shy of $1million in less than 100 days.

Some people need help on an occasion where they are overwhelmed- others need help on a more ongoing basis.

The character of a community is seen when the help is there.

Giving back - loaded bins

Dozens of bins hold the food collected by Nelson high school students for distribution by different community agencies throughout the year.

Each year hockey players from across the city take part in the Gift of Giving Back event that has the players collecting food that gets delivered to the participating high school each year.  Last year the drive was centered on M.M. Robinson,

Gift of Giving back logo - 10th

This November will mark the 12th year the program has been run.

It is that food that gets sent to Food Banks where it is distributed to places like Wellington Square where several hundred are fed each Friday night.

The food is good – but it is about far more than filling a stomach.

An “eco” system has developed that has those students from Nelson high school gathering the food –it goes to Burlington Food Bank and Food For Life where it is then distributed to the three churches in Burlington that are feeding large groups of people in a community setting.

Each of the church’s works closely with the places that are holding large stocks of food as well as with the local restaurants that make food available. Pane Fresca send over a large supply of bread each week.

Lunski has the menu worked out by Thursday of each week and uses the meager financial resources she has to fill in with items that have to be purchased. They know where the food bargains are to be found

Lunski was born in Kingston, moved to Montreal until age 10, then moved to Mississauga where she attended Erindale High School

She went to University of Western Ontario for undergrad, York University for Teacher’s college, and then a Master’s degree in education at York that she completed as a part time student while raising young children.

Lisa in kitchen - prepping

Making it all come together on time for evening dinner requires checking in with the dozens of volunteers who make the event happen.

The career arc for Lunski was to become a principal – that changed when she adopted her last 2 children two girls adopted internationally.

Her first home was in Oakville; 12 years ago she moved to Burlington and joined Wellington Square United Church

As a young child Lunski always had a desire and passion for helping others and doing outreach in her community which included mission trips in Kenya prior to having children and two Mexico mission trips with her boys through her church . Was a part of the outreach committee at Wellington Square, and coordinated our team each month in serving breakfast at Kerr St. Mission in Oakville. Also served occasionally at Wesley Centre in Hamilton.

When asked why she went to Oakville and Hamilton to serve, but wasn’t doing anything in her our own city to help meet needs Lunski began to look within and was given an opportunity to serve whens she was asked to help with a community event that had grown faster than many expected.

Early mens group

It started out as a small event – 25 people attended the very first dinner – and it grew to involve a wider community.

In summer of 2009, a small group of men at Wellington Square were looking to do an outreach initiative in Burlington and tapped into St. Christopher’s where a dinner was being served on Tuesday, but did not offer the meal during the summer. The men filled this spot in the summer by offering a monthly and then bi-monthly, meal alternating between a BBQ and spaghetti dinner to folks in our community.

Thom and Don - making the main meal

Thom and Bob – couple of guys who have known each other since they were 14 – get up at about 2:00 am to do the work their private cleaning business brings in. They learned about th Wellington Square Community Friday from the managers of The Poacher where they spend some of their time. They have been cooking a meal on Friday at Wellington Square for more than five years

As the dinner expanded they were looking for someone to help in a number of capacities, and in 2010 Lunski began to coordinate the Friday Night Community Dinner, which changed its name to Friday Night Community, because “we recognized that it is so much more than a dinner, but a community of hope and caring for so many.” Over the last 8 years the dinner grew from an intimate group of 25 to an overflowing 250 friends every Friday.

“When my children were younger I did the role in a volunteer capacity, and two years ago joined the staff of the church and now coordinate the Friday Night Community in a paid capacity.

For many – Friday evening is an opportunity to get out and be with people. Several of the retirement homes in the city bus groups of people who just want to get out and keep in touch with friends

Group home area

Community on Friday nights at Wellington Square includes people bussed in from area retirement homes who get a chance to get out and be with their friends. Last Friday – they made it a Valentine celebration.

Like the crowd at the Legion who remember their war stories or the seniors that talk about how they are managing their finances and working out transportation plans for a day trip they are planning; it is people coming together to share.

The Rotary types meet to talk about what they will be doing in the months ahead. One of the Rotary Clubs runs the Ribfest event in the city.

Pic 3 - lady holding food

Becki Deware (Burlington Meeting House) with birthday plates. If the volunteers know of a birthday – a special plate of food is made up for them.

Rural people will tell you about the quality of life in the country where everyone knows everyone and when there is a problem or something to celebrate they all gather as a community.

That describes Wellington Square on Friday evenings.

It is hard work for Lisa – she has to pull together the food and the fixings for more than 200 people and make sure it all comes together at the right time – and while the volunteers are working in the kitchens she is chatting with people that she likes to see every week.

Pic 2 - ladies at a food table

Front right: Adele Baker (Shoreacres Bible Chapel), Ginny Swain (Port Nelson United), Nancy Walker (Wellington Square), Jackie Manley (Wellington Square)

There is a huge welcome when someone who has not been around for a while walks through the doors.
There is however a bigger picture and some serious questions to be asked. How long can the churches serve as the social hub and a dinner table for several hundred people week after week?

Is this a sustainable model? Is it the most effective way for community to function? Are the costs manageable? Will the volunteers always be there and when do the people who lead these operations get time to pause and think about what they are doing and to refresh themselves?

Are we doing what we are doing the most effective way?

Men having a coffee break

Volunteers taking a coffee break as they spend the day preparing for the Friday evening community event.

No one questions for a second the service that is given – the needs that are being met and the sense of community so many people can tap into is vital to Burlington.  The question is – are the churches the only people at the table?  Where is the city?  Where is the Region?

Is there a better way?



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1 comment to Community takes on a different look when there are 300+ people enjoying time with each other.

  • Iona Buisman

    Thanks for this article which only shows a small glimpse of what happens on a Friday night. The community that has been built over the years has seen some wonderful relationships and friendships deepen as we journey life together. As we ponder the bigger questions such as where is the city and region, I think it is equally important to note that the churches who are partnering together to take this on and other dinners in our city are exactly doing what they have been called to do…they have been doing so since the early beginnings of the church.