It’s a whimsical time for women at the Mustard Seed

Women laugh, chat and crochet as they enjoy another Whimsical Wednesday for Women at the Mustard Seed.

The Mustard Seed is a community outreach centre run by Fontbonne Ministries, a division of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto. Located at 791 Queen St. E., the goal of this community centre is to help women and men who live on the street develop the life skills they need in order to change their situation.

Women enjoy the crafts room at Whimsical Wednesdays for Women at the Mustard Seed. (Cheronne Thurab)

Sister Gwen Smith, the 81-year-old director at the Mustard Seed, says Whimsical Wednesdays tries to help those in the community who cannot help themselves, without making individuals feel as if they’re any less capable than people who seem to have more.

“Our whole mission is to nurture community,” she said. “There are a couple women (here) who have issues with men and most of our programs are co-ed so we decided to have one day a week for women.”

On Whimsical Wednesdays, women can pop in for meditation, a community kitchen and a foot care clinic is available by appointment. In the sewing room, women go through yards of cloth to make things. One is learning how to design a skirt from scratch.

Joan, a program participant (who didn’t want her last name used because of the stigma around mental illness), visits the Mustard Seed’s community kitchen, meditation group. She takes part in a pottery class hosted by one of the Sisters of St. Joseph, called “Studio on the Hill.” She says the environment the Sisters of St. Joseph have created differs from other programs in the city.

“I don’t get on well generally with drop-ins at all, but this drop-in is not like a normal drop-in,” Joan said. “It’s spotlessly clean. Nobody talks down to you … People just accept you.”

Joan says one of the best things about the Mustard Seed is being able to deal with people who treat you fairly instead of judging based on any personal issues you may have.

“If you do something that was not helpful … they would say something, but they would say it in a way that they would say it to any other person,” she said. “So it’s not something that you feel really put down about or that you did it wrong.”

Smith says it’s important that staff and volunteers treat participants with respect through solid communication. Since she doesn’t have anger management training, she makes a point to communicate clearly with program participants in an effort to avoid conflict.

 Xinia Rodrigues, a program participant at the Mustard Seed, prepares to begin sewing at Whimsical Wednesdays for Women. (Cheronne Thurab)

“We’re real. We all make mistakes. You speak to the person first about the behaviour and tell them how it upset your life and try to remedy it,” she said. “That’s what we’re about, just letting people know where you belong and we love you.”

Sister Gwen Smith says some time in the community kitchen is dedicated to teaching the importance of budgeting, nutrition, effective grocery shopping and healthy eating. While the Mustard Seed goes to the grocery store, the participants are the ones who put the meals together.

“We have a good working relationship with most of the people,” she said. “They learn the basics but I told the hospital based on my … experience I know they will be healthier.”