Michelle Downey: I volunteer at the local soup kitchen and I try to get to know those who come to have lunch

Opinion: I spoke with a couple who told me finding food is just one of the challenges of living on the streets.

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This morning, as I went to enter the local community kitchen that serves meals every day of the week, I had to wait while Guy moved his belongings and scooter from the doorway.

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He politely apologized for being in the way and offered to help me carry the groceries I was using that day for Sunday lunch.

What impacted me that day, more than any other day, was the gracious spirit that came from this man sleeping at the door.

He was friendly and told me that he and his friend were given special permission to sleep in that spot, because of their disabilities. He had cerebral palsy and slept in his scooter every day.

Why was this day different from other Sunday lunches? I suppose I was impacted by the concept of someone apologizing for sleeping outside in a wheelchair with a disability.

I volunteer at the soup kitchen and have for quite some time. Each time I’m there, I try to get to know those who come to have lunch.

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What I try to explain to my family and friends who have never seen the soup kitchen is that this place is like a community. They help each other and look out for each other’s needs.

On this morning, someone brought coffee to the two men in the doorway before the warming center opened because, they said, it had been a cold, damp night.

What impacts me the most about getting to know some of the patrons are their stories. These people aren’t all addicts.

A woman I have gotten to know is a long-haul truck driver who lives in her minivan with her two adult children and her daughter’s boyfriend.

Why does she do this?

She tells me each time that she isn’t giving up on her children; she is fighting to get them into substance treatment. She said if she gives up, they will die and she refuses to give up on them. I admire her tenacity and strength.

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Take Nicholas, for example, a young man who is an aspiring artist and musician. When I first met him last month, he told me about the challenge of being thankful for living in supportive housing while at the same time struggling to stay clean in a building full of addicts.

We talked about how turning one’s life around can be a challenge.

That day he showed me his artwork and told me how grateful he is to be part of an art program at the community art gallery down the street. He beamed with pride at belonging to this newly developed program.

While I was leaving the lunch program, I spoke with a couple who told me finding food is just one of the challenges of living on the streets.

All of their belongings were in the back of their truck. The woman told me she hopes to find a barber who will come downtown and help those in need of a haircut. She wonders if perhaps someone can set up shop once a week to help give haircuts?

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Truly, the most memorable story that I will never forget is one of a mother’s determination to save her daughter.

A few years ago, a young, vulnerable blind woman would come to the community kitchen.

We had heard stories of her mother fighting to get her back.

One day, I saw her with her mother, and I knew that the mom had won the battle for her daughter.

Now, two years later, I cry with joy when I see them together as they walk.

Not long ago, I saw this young woman running down a hill. I pulled over to ask if she needed a ride, since she was hurrying.

She answered with a smile, “No, I am just running!” And off she went down the sidewalk with her mobility cane.

I will never forget that moment and I will tell this story to anyone who will listen. This is a great reminder that every person on the street has value and that there is hope for them.

Michelle Downey volunteers with the Həm’a?ēlas Community Kitchen in Campbell River.

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