KAMLOOPS — It was almost midnight, almost Friday, when I started writing this. The house was quiet and warm and outside sudden wind gusts were throwing snow up in the air creating white ghosts that seemed unable to make up their minds which way to go. The heavy snow that started the night before draped thick over the city and surroundings.
It’s a winter wonderland around us for sure, and I love the quiet I get immersed in during my morning hikes with the dog, and I love the swirls I see dancing through the window on a windy night. But I know all this joy would be obliterated, should I not have a warm abode to come back to when I am done.
Which is why the opening of the homeless shelter by the Kamloops Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association on November 1 is a timely, welcome event. I dropped in during the open house held last Monday in what used to be the gym of Stuart Wood Elementary School. It had been a while since I was there last, when the boys were still in school and my husband and I would go see the plays, usually held in the gym. It looked different now. Mattresses were arranged neatly in rows, dressed, and each with a blanket; waiting.
Staff members showed me around. ‘Here’s the kitchen, the laundry area which the staff will operate, the extra sleeping room for those who snore or have pets…’ There was a sense of accomplishment in the air. No one will be turned away, I am told. The shelter has a 50-person capacity but if need be, rearranging the space will make room for more. No one will be left in the cold... I go back to playing that sentence in my head. It is humbling to realize how lucky we are, all of us who never had to worry about a warm bed at the end of the day, more so in winter.
I cannot think of a better use for the old Stuart Wood school building. It is after all a building that sits empty at a time when temperatures are dropping to painfully cold. Once again, Kamloops shows its heart, and I know it will continue to do so with every opportunity.
Then came the weekend. If you happened by the Superstore on Summit Drive or the Independent Grocer on the North Shore on Saturday, you might’ve noticed some big army trucks and people in uniforms. The Rocky Mountain Rangers in collaboration with the Food Bank did a food drive which brought in 1,200 pounds of food and other needed items. More is always needed.
Truth is, our society sees a lot of stuff, perishable or non-perishable food items, and many other objects, go to waste. Many of us have long lost items that are in perfectly good shape yet lost among other objects in our home. We often see food end up in the garbage in our own home and in food stores too, and yet hunger is still a reality for many. There are initiatives that show the opposite is possible though and that’s where hope lies. The foodSHARE program by the Kamloops Food Bank helped divert 9 million pounds of food from the landfill and use it for food programs and, if expired, as animal feed.
I’ve heard some say that this time a year you cannot go anywhere without being asked for donations and it can become too much. There is even a name for it: compassion fatigue. Yet I encourage you to not give that thought too much room to grow. There are many people at the receiving end who count on our compassion to get a meal, the bare necessities for life, or a warm bed to sleep in. Many of them may be fatigued by life and its trials, yet they cannot step away from it just by looking the other way.
The Poppy Campaign conducted by the Canadian Legion (all funds go to veterans and their dependents) has volunteers stand many hours no matter the weather conditions, because every little bit helps, and they believe in it to brave the elements. There’s the Christmas Cheer Fund (all funds go to those in need), more food drives still, and hospital charity campaign. Then there is the stuff that comes in the mailbox or via petitions online.
Also, some argue that if money is donated, not enough goes to those in need but it is diverted towards administrative funds and such. That in itself is a whole separate conversation, yet if too much energy and time is put into in bashing some of the fundraising campaigns, there is a risk of not leaving enough consideration for those in need who are at the receiving end.
If that is a troubling thought, I encourage you to look for opportunities to help right in our own backyard. Whether it is food donated to the Food Bank, or items needed by shelters such as the newly opened CMHA shelter (twin fitted sheets and quilts, pillows, pillow cases, towels, changes of clothes, for example) or time you could set aside to help as a volunteer, please welcome the opportunity.
I’d argue that compassion is the most significant gesture that can make a difference in one’s life. For those who give, aware of the hardship people endure, and for those who receive the help in any form or shape, the bond of compassion is one that holds society together and puts one’s faith in humanity back into place. People in Kamloops have proved it many times and that is something to be fiercely proud of.