The city's winter after-hours drop-in centre could not open its doors this year, but it is serving hot meals a couple of times a month to people in need.
This would have been the fifth year of operation for the warm, safe recreation room that would take in the people of the street when other shelters were unavailable. Organization and location problems caused the host group for the service to bow out this year, but many of the volunteers who believed in the service still wanted to help.
Lead organizer Patrick Pocha of the Northern Interior Metis Cultural Society found allies in Barbara Croome of the Mustard Seed in Prince George, Nicole Doucette of the Prince George Nechako Aboriginal Employment and Training Association, and the Street Church Ministries organization. Together they prepare free meals every second week and serve them to an average of 125 people per session. Five have been done so far.
"Patrick had a heart, when there was no longer the option of the main drop-in centre operating this winter, to still do something to help the community and bring those people together for fellowship and a good meal," said Croome.
"It was a unique form of outreach, and it referred a lot of people to a lot of other services available to them," said Doucette. "It opened a lot of doors to other community partners. We hope to see the drop-in centre run again next year, and it was welcome news that Patrick was getting people like Barbara involved to do meals."
The money that used to go to drop-in centre operations (from late night until early morning, five nights a week for 15 to 20 weeks each winter) was allocated to other street-level work this year, so the meals had to be paid for a different way. Doucette and her 20-or-so colleagues have private, in-house fundraisers then decide what to do with the money raised. They decided to apply it to the meals program. Some friends on staff with Pacific Trail Pipeline's Aboriginal Skills Employment Partnership did the same thing. Together they raised close to $2,400.
"Oftentimes when social agencies put on meals for the street community, the food is donated or left over from other purposes. But because we were dealing with donated cash, we could purchase exactly what we needed for food, to prepare meals that we would serve in our own homes," said Croome.
Pocha was particularly eager to run some kind of health and fellowship program after the success he saw at the individual level through the warmth and games and activities and referrals of the drop-in centre. One young woman came up to him at one of this winter's dinners to apologize for her ill tempered behaviour, years ago in the drop-in room, but she was a drug and alcohol user then. She said the late-night stability and the positive people at the drop-in centre were instrumental in getting her to the clean and sober state she is in today.
"We are not doing this because government is not," said Croome. "We are doing this because it is the right thing to do. It helps people who need help."
"Fortunately, Prince George is very good at people coming together to do positive things for those less fortunate, and that is what is happening here," said Doucette.
To contribute food, money or volunteer hours to the meals, contact the Mustard Seed in Prince George at 250-563-9959 or email bcro...@telus.net.
The next meals will be served April 7 and 21.