Like almost everybody else in Ontario – and most of Canada – I had often heard the name “Dr. Andrew Simone” and his great work in feeding the poor in missionary countries. But our paths did not cross until 1999. How it happened was this. I was supplying at St. Joseph’s Parish in Port Elgin and I noticed dozens of boxes piled up at the entrance to the church. I asked the Pastor, Fr. Hudson, what they contained and he told me that they were donations of food for Dr. Simone’s Canadian Food for the Children program. This gave me a new interest and I decided that I must meet this man, who is doing such great work for the people of what is known as “The Third World” where I had spent the first 30 years of my priesthood.
The warehouseI phoned Dr. Simone and he said that I would be welcome to visit him at the warehouse, which is in Mississauga. I went there on the day arranged and I was really amazed at the size of the building. It is a huge warehouse, with shelves packed with food of all kinds, which would be on its way to any of 25 countries within a week. Dr. Simone and a number of volunteers have a group of students from a local high school come on certain days to help with the sorting and storing of the various containers. It resembled a large business company rather than the wonderful house of charity, which it is! This warehouse was donated to Dr. Simone 14 years ago by Mr. Charles McKenna. Without this wonderful gift it would be practically impossible for Canadian Food for the Children to perform its tremendous work for the poor children of the world. As Dr. Simone was so busy I decided that it would be unfair to delay him so we decided to meet again and he would give me a fairly detailed account of how he had started this really great work. He also wanted me to meet his wife, Joan, who is his greatest supporter in what one can only call his “God-given vocation.”
Marriage to Joan
Before attempting to write an account of Dr. Simone’s work, I decided to do some research on his past. Dr. Simone was born in Toronto of Italian and French parentage. He studied medicine at Queen’s University and graduated as an M.D. in 1963. He continued his medical studies and qualified as a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. He then went to Harvard and studied dermatology, of which he is now a specialist. Before completing his medical studies, Dr. Simone married Joan, who has an English and Irish background. Previous to qualifying as a specialist, they had six children. They then had seven more, one of whom is adopted.
After full qualification in 1968, Dr. Simone ran a very successful practice in Etobicoke, specializing in dermatology. With a lucrative medical practice, a very happy marriage to a wonderful wife and plenty of children, Andrew was doing “very well.” But then the Lord stepped in in a very special way. In 1975, Andrew and Joan joined a prayer group in the Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Etobicoke. While they had always been sincere, practising Catholics, this experience led them to more meditation and private prayer and they both felt the urge to do more for the poor. They became foster parents to 24 children including a very disturbed young boy. And remember that they have thirteen children of their own!
“I was hungry …”
As they studied the Gospels, the words of Our Lord, “I was hungry and you gave me to eat,” and the opposite, “I was hungry and you did not give me to eat,” became more practical to them and, with a wonderful lady named Shari Fazekas, they formed Canadian Food for Children. They began helping the poor in Canada. In 1980, Father Francis West, S.J., came to see them and on his advice they began supporting Mother Teresa’s great work for the poor in mission lands.
I should have mentioned earlier that when Andrew and Joan decided to devote their lives to the poor, they closed their bank account and cancelled their life insurance. They have no security, no R.S.P. They do not do any fund raising, and yet they send hundreds of tons of food all over the needy areas of the world. I have no intention of trying to explain how this works as it is all contained in three words, “TRUST IN GOD”. It is interesting to note that Mother Teresa never went about fundraising either. She too depended on God to inspire people to be more charitable and her faith certainly worked. I think it is worth printing a letter from Mother Teresa to Andrew and Joan Simone. It was written from Calcutta in 1981:
Dear Co-workers, Joan and Andrew, Thank you for your beautiful letter – God love you for what you do for Jesus in the distressing guise of the poor. Our people in Tanzania and Ethiopia are hungry. So, please get together with Fr. West and see how fast you can get food to our Sisters for the poor. To send money is no good as there is no food to buy – but in your country there is plenty. Please work very close with Fr. West and see how soon the food could get to the Sisters. Wheat, maize, biscuits or any other food we can get in big quantities. Help Father as this is a beautiful work for all the co-workers. I am praying for you all, God bless, M.Teresa.
As a result of this letter, Dr. Andrew wrote to one hundred food companies in 1982, explaining the situation and requesting help. Not one of them replied. He then phoned the heads of the companies and some 15 agreed to send food. This number eventually increased to 40 companies. Food and clothing is sent regularly to the following: South and Central America, all over Africa, the Philippine Islands, India and others.
Share Life Toronto gives Canadian Food for Children $55,000 annually. So if you, the reader, are supporting Share Life, you are also helping Dr. Simone to feed the hungry children in the poor countries of the world.
In October 1999 I phoned Dr. Simone’s office to arrange an interview. I was told that he and Joan were in Zambia, Central Africa on an official visit to see how the food was being distributed. They told me later how pleased they were to see the hundreds of poor children who were being kept alive by Canadian Food for Children. It occurred to me that Dr. Simone and Joan and their supporters are truly “Pro-life people.” If we insist that children must be allowed to be born, we also have the obligation to see that they are “kept alive,” and I can’t think of any people who are more dedicated to this cause than Andrew and Joan Simone and their volunteers in Canadian Food for Children.
When they returned to Canada, we arranged a meeting at their home in Etobicoke, where Dr. Simone also has his office. He still has his medical practice and is in the office three days per week. The remainder of the week is spent in the warehouse. Joan and some volunteers look after the food office and correspondence. When speaking personally to Dr. Simone, he insists that he could not do all this charitable work without the help of “my wonderful wife, Joan.” When I referred to “the people who help you,” Andrew interrupted, “Pardon me Father, but they are not helping me, they are helping the hungry children of the world.” When I asked him how many people were engaged in this wonderful work, he told me that between Canada and America and a few other countries, they number many thousands, who help in various ways by sending food, clothes, soap, medical necessities and various other goods which help poor people to live more normal lives.