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  • McMaster Student Outreach Collaborative

    "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful concerned citizens  can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
    — Margaret Mead

    Logo of the McMaster Student Outreach Collaborative (MacSOC)

  • Mission Statement

    McMaster Student Outreach Collaborative is an interdisciplinary group of volunteer students, staff and faculty whose aim is to work with the community to conduct outreach for those who are marginally housed, homeless or at risk of homelessness in the City of Hamilton. 

    You can visit their ​Facebook page at MacSoc.

  • Objectives

    Since 1999, The Objectives of Mac SOC are to:

    • Conduct outreach to those who are marginally housed, homeless or at risk of homelessness in the City of Hamilton.
    • Provide food, clothing, basic personal needs and health information and foot care to those who are marginally housed, homeless or at risk of homelessness in the City of Hamilton.
    • Connect adults and youth with health and social service information to community programs and health services.
    • Promote collaborative and coordinated community partnerships with existing organizations who work with marginalized populations (e.g. Wesley Urban Ministries and St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church).
    • Facilitate communication and develop social networks built on trust, between student volunteers and the community through outreach.
    • Promote understanding of poverty as a determinant of health and amongst volunteer students.
    • Promote the value of social responsibility amongst students across the McMaster University campus.
  • History and Overview of Mac SOC

    ​"If I hadn't met that Mac SOC outreach worker, I wouldn't be here today"

    — Personal communication from a citizen who accessed Mac SOC outreach services.

    MacSOC outreach worker scrubbing a person's foot

    In 1999 two nursing students from McMaster University, Patrick Mahoney and Greg Reilly established McMaster Student Outreach Collaborative (Mac SOC). Together Patrick and Greg recruited and organized volunteers of students, faculty, and staff from the School of Nursing to conduct outreach to those living in poverty and those at risk of poverty and homelessness in the City of Hamilton.  Initially, this group mapped out a downtown route through parks and other areas where people experiencing poverty and homelessness congregated and determined the needs of the population. As a result of this assessment Mac SOC teamed up with the Salvation Army Soup Van to assist with providing health service information support at their designated locations. This was a valuable service as it allowed a mobile clinic of volunteers to assist a larger cohort of individuals who needed food, clothing, as well as access to health information and support services. Slowly through the grapevine of personal communication on the streets, a community of under serviced individuals learned that Mac SOC could be found every Wednesday night in their neighborhoods.

    Much attention for the project was raised through several media outlets including articles in the Hamilton Spectator television coverage on both CH TV 11 and Global Networks. In addition, a film was aired on Discovery Television depicting the day in the life of a nursing student featuring the Mac SOC outreach experience.

    Since 2002 as the demand for outreach services increased, Mac SOC partnered with St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church to provide indoor weekly meeting space for those whom Mac SOC served. Individuals in need were invited to come to the church from 8pm-10pm each Wednesday night, where food, clothing, blankets, sleeping bags, social interaction, and health care information and support were available. In addition, foot care by volunteer Registered Nurses was offered at both the Out of the Cold locations and at St. John’s Evangelical Church. More importantly these outreach efforts enabled those whom Mac SOC served a chance to communicate with dedicated volunteers. By 2008, 90 volunteers serve between 90-120 people every Wednesday evening at Mac SOC Church location. 

    As Mac SOC has evolved, it  has established a unique service and relationships between the University and the community. Most recently Mac SOC has teamed up with Youth Outreach Workers in Hamilton (YOW-H) to conduct outreach side by side with youth outreach professionals. 

    Since its inception, student and faculty volunteers have developed strong relationships with people in the Hamilton community.  For students, developing community partnerships and learning about the contributing factors of poverty and homelessness and its effects on the social determinants of health has been a significant learning experience during their time as McMaster students.

  • Outreach & Volunteer Opportunities

    MacSOC volunteer picture

    As of March 2011, MacSOC has grown to a size of close to 300 volunteers who continue to provide food, clothing and health & social services information and support to the marginally housed, homeless, or those at risk of homelessness. It is a unique service where the University is actively involved in using a "hands on" approach in meeting the needs of those who are poor and marginalized in the City of Hamilton. After more than a decade of this initiative there is continued interest from students from the departments of medicine, midwifery, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and engineering, health sciences, arts and science, life sciences and kinesiology in volunteering with MacSOC.

    St John’s Evangelical Church

    Since 2002-2003 Mac SOC  has partnered with the St. Evangelical Lutheran Church to provide indoor space for people each Wednesday evenings from 8pm – 10 pm during the school year from October to April .On a typical night, approximately 90-120 sandwiches are given out in addition to muffins, granola bars, and juice boxes that are donated. Clothing, blankets, coats, shoes and boots are distributed based on a priority need basis. Social interaction and consultation regarding health problems are available as there is an on site nurse available. Church volunteers work along side Mac SOC volunteers to provide the space, help with serving participants and assistance with cleaning up after outreach Wednesday evenings. In addition there are volunteer opportunities to prepare the food, sort clothing and to seek donations of clothing.

    A team of 10-12 volunteers led by 2 Executive Committee Members and a Registered Nurse are responsible for the activities of the group. Two volunteers are assigned to monitor the comings and goings of individuals in the space. Three individuals are assigned to distribute clothes brought in laundry hampers. Three to four individuals are assigned to distribute food already prepared and brought to the church wrapped in large plastic containers and hot chocolate brought in thermoses. Each clothing and food group is responsible for maintaining cleanliness and for the collection and removal of garbage. One volunteer sets up an information table for distribution of information flyers for community services. The remaining individuals including the Registered Nurse are responsible for circulating and talking with individuals and may engage in private conversations with individuals at a table and chairs set aside from the clothing and food distribution sites. Some examples of discussions between Mac SOC professional health care providers and community persons include the management of chronic health problems such as diabetes and hypertension; side effects of treatment such as medications; substance abuse information; dental health needs as well as information requests on counselling and pregnancy testing. 

    To sign up: each fall an email is sent to Health & Arts and Science students regarding MacSOC Orientation/sign-up. At this orientation meeting you will learn about the activities of Mac SOC and how to sign up for outreach evenings. 

    Youth Outreach Workers, Hamilton  (YOW-H)

    Youth Outreach Workers – Hamilton (YOW-H) is a joint project between members of the Street Youth Planning Collaborative, the Province and Wesley Urban Ministries.  Outreach staff are employed through various youth serving agencies to support young people 12-21 years in their communities in the east, central and north ends of the lower part of the City of Hamilton.  The outreach staff team’s main goal is engaging youth that are not connected and therefore at an increased risk for involvement in violence, school drop out, teen pregnancy, etc.

    Mac Soc partnered with YOW-H to get a glimpse into the interesting world of street work as this becomes a very real and necessary part of reaching out and assisting people in our community. As a pilot project, in the winter term of 2008 we initially recruited about 70 volunteers through a combination of online postings, information sessions in the fall, the Poverty Homeless course at McMaster and personal contacts.

    During the pilot phase we had 15-20 students participating in weekly outreach with the Youth Outreach Workers (YOW). Our volunteers act in a supportive role for the YOW during evening outreach activities. The volunteers assist the YOWs in making connections with street-involved youth in the city of Hamilton. Shifts take place in downtown Hamilton in one of three broad geographic areas: Hamilton North, Hamilton Central and Hamilton East. Volunteers sign up for shifts through a communal Gmail account, using the "calendar" function to enter their names and their contact information.

    To sign up: each fall an email is sent to Health & Arts and Science students regarding MacSOC Orientation/sign-up. At this orientation meeting you will learn about the activities of Mac SOC and how to sign up for outreach evenings. YOW representatives are present to answer questions about this volunteer opportunity.

    Keliah Jewish Day School

    In 2007, Kehillah Jewish elementary school students from junior kindergarten to Grade 5, began collecting sleeping bags and blankets from members of Hamilton’s Jewish community to be distributed at the church. Representatives from the McMaster Student Outreach Collaborative (Mac SOC) picked up the donations and provided the students with a plaque in recognition of their contribution.  As a follow up to this initiative, members of Mac SOC executive were involved in teaching an interactive 3 hour education workshop to Kehillah students on the hidden aspects of poverty.

    Additional Volunteer Opportunities 

    Operation Shoebox Christmas

    "Operation Shoebox" is a Christmas shoebox drive in which  approximately 300 shoeboxes are donated and handed out with items such as gift certificates, socks , hats, gloves and personal hygiene items. The shoeboxes are distributed by Mac SOC every year the last Wednesday before Christmas to those individuals and families experiencing poverty and homelessness in the City. 

    To volunteer a shoebox for this event, contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Eva Heslop ( She will give you the age group for which you can make a Christmas Shoebox. Then collect a shoebox, wrap it in holiday paper and fill it with socks, mittens, gift certificates (Tim Horton’s, Food Basics etc), holiday treats, shampoo, hair brushes etc. 

    Cut A Thon

    For the past seven years, Mac SOC  has held a Cut-A-Thon fundraiser in partnership with the Albert Snow Hair Design Group to raise funds to help those whom Mac SOC serves. This is a unique fundraiser, where top hair designers in the community donate their styling services to raise money to support the activities of Mac SOC. For the 2008 Cut A Thon, $5,000 was raised from donations from the public and from corporate support of the Cut A Thon by Goldwell. All proceeds raised went to help support Wesley Urban Ministries Youth Housing program.  This program supports youth 16-21 years of age, who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The Wesley Youth housing program teaches hands on life skills, with varying levels of support, so youth gain the experience of living independently. Proceeds from the 2008 Cut A Thon went to support youth living at Wesley youth housing who require assistance with academic goals.


Laurie Kennedy

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