When Morris and Annie Zeidman started The Scott Mission in 1941, they told themselves they would serve the needs of the poor and lost in the community as long as God provided the means.
Now, after 70 years, it is evident that God has blessed the Mission in every way. The destitute continue to find food, shelter and clothing. The abandoned find the courage to forgive. The downcast find the strength to restore broken relationships and achieve their dreams. The lonely find the perfect friend in Jesus.
In addition, there are more than 100 staff and 5,000 volunteers who dedicate themselves to carrying on the Zeidmans’ legacy of love and service.
This is how it all began.
Seventeen-year old Morris Zeidman left his home in Poland to start a new life in Toronto, just prior to WWI. When he arrived, he realized he needed to learn English and spent time exploring the streets of the city. One day as he was walking near the corner of Elm and Elizabeth Street, a sign written in Hebrew characters on the window of a building caught his eye. It read: “House of Good Tidings of the Messiah of the Children of Israel.” Intrigued, he went into the building. This was the Christian Synagogue, a ministry established in 1908 by the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Through the vision of the Rev. J. MacPherson Scott, the Synagogue had been created to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with Jewish immigrants.
Morris began searching for the truth by asking a lot of questions and having long discussions with the leaders of the Christian Synagogue. It was a long struggle, but eventually Morris found the Truth in Jesus Christ and accepted Him as the long-awaited Messiah. Morris was a changed man. He decided to study at Knox College to become a Presbyterian minister so more people would hear the Good News.
During this time, the Synagogue issued an appeal to Bloor Street Presbyterian Church asking for volunteers to teach English to immigrants at the Synagogue. Annie Martin responded to the call and she and Morris gradually became aware of each other.
In 1920, the Rev. Scott died and the Synagogue was renamed the Scott Institute to honour him and indicate the broadening of the work from Jewish immigrants to include poor people of any background. Meanwhile, Morris had graduated and been ordained. He promptly became the new superintendant of the Scott Institute, the same institution that had given him a new life in Christ. He and Annie were married in 1926 and tirelessly devoted themselves to a variety of ministries: worship services, Bible study groups, personal consultation, boys and girls clubs, Sunday School, summer camp, food and clothing distribution, and financial assistance.
The people who came to the Scott Institute in those days were desperately poor. Even before the Depression of the 1930s, hundreds of immigrants struggled to establish themselves in their new country.
Morris had an idea to start a soup kitchen to serve the many people who were showing up at the door in dire straits. He approached the Toronto Telegram, a daily newspaper that ran from 1876 to 1971, to see if they could help. While he was talking to the editor, the Zellers department store happened to phone the Telegram to say that they had 130 gallons of turkey giblets left over from their Thanksgiving dinner and didn’t know what to do with them. The editor mentioned the Scott Institute’s project and the soup kitchen ministry began. More than 200 people were fed at that first meal and, gradually through the Depression, 1,000 men a day came to be fed, in addition to the groceries and clothing distributed to families.
The Scott Institute was accountable to the Home Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church, of which Morris was a member. In October 1941, Morris resigned from the board due to a difference in vision. The end of the Depression and beginning of WWII meant that the interest of the Church began to draw away from the needs of the poor towards chaplaincies and things concerned with the war. Morris wanted to continue the focus of providing for the needy, so he took a leap of faith, purchased a double storefront and small factory at 724-726 Bay Street, and named it The Scott Mission to show a continuation of the original work. He signed the lease knowing that he barely had enough for the first month’s rent. A steady stream of men, women, and children from poor neighbourhoods came to the Mission every day for assistance. Immediate members of the Zeidman family began serving, so Morris was able to spend more time writing.
One tradition he and Annie started was writing the Good Samaritan’s Corner, a little advertisement that appeared every Saturday in the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and the Telegram from October 17, 1945. The ads described little vignettes of life at the Mission and were very popular with readers.
In 1948, following steady growth, The Scott Mission moved to 502 Spadina Avenue. In 1960-61, the old premises at 502 Spadina Avenue were torn down, temporary quarters occupied 696 Spadina Avenue during the construction period, and a new building was erected on the former site. In 1975, a third floor was added.
Morris faithfully fulfilled his ministry until he was called home to the Lord in 1964. His son, Alex, took over the supervision of the Mission until his untimely death in 1986. David Zeidman, the younger son, was able to step into the breach, followed by others who have maintained the ministries implemented by the founder.
Annie continued to be involved in the literary aspects of the Mission until her death in 1992. Some members of the Zeidman family are still actively involved in The Scott Mission’s ministry.
Today, the poor and needy in our city continue to find comfort and hope at The Scott Mission.
It is through the grace of God that The Scott Mission continues to open its doors, welcoming old and new friends and experiencing an abundance of blessings year after year!