On January 21st, with my Political Economy class tutored by Dr. Kaija Belfry Monroe, we volunteered in the Squamish Helping Hands Society and Squamish Food Bank. Since this experience had a big impact on the way I see life and how thankful I should be, I decided to write a blog post all about it.
When a few weeks ago our tutor Kaija mentioned in front of the class that we were going to visit these two centers, I immediately got very excited and could not wait to go help because I know how much these centers need our help. Since we were 15 students in total, seven stayed at the Food Bank to help with the distribution of packaged food, and eight (including me) went to the Squamish Helping Hands Society. The very first thing I noticed once we went inside the building was the need for helpers. All the workers and volunteers were working extremely hard by carrying food to the van, preparing dinner, and making lunches for school kids (which are delivered to seven elementary schools the next day). Throughout the blog post I will explain who Andrea Purton is, what Squamish Helping Hands Society does and how it affects people’s lives, and who can volunteer.
Today, Dr. Andrea Purton, visited our class and talked more in depth about this amazing program. Andrea Purton, who tutors Rhetoric at Quest, earned a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Connecticut. However, she is very involved in various community projects in Squamish, with an interest in local food systems and food security. Currently she works as a manager at Squamish Helping Hands Society, where she and others work to develop resources and programs that strengthen access to a healthy food and long-term secure shelter.
According to the Squamish Helping Hands Society website, since there are about 200 homeless people in Squamish area they have decided to help. Every day this society prepares 65-120 hot meals for over 100 people, rescues 250-350 pounds of food, and redistributes 5-10 boxes of food to community organizations, seniors and families who need it the most. They also provide 12,660 brown bag school lunches, 3000 shelter stays, and 3289 volunteers’ hours. In one year, they have served an average of 35,000 meals! This program first began in 2006 as a shelter for bad weather days, for a few days a week. In 2009 it turned into a 24/7 shelter. The society gets fund from BC housing, grants, and donations. Most of the food donations come from local stores such as Nesters, Save On, Starbucks, and Tim Hortons. According to Andrea, most of the people that seek for help at Squamish Helping Hands Society are men of the age 40 years and older, however, there are also women, and youth over the age of 18 years old. One thing I noticed when we volunteered in the center last week, was the higher number of men that came to the shelter therefore I asked Andrea today for the reason of this phenomenon. Andrea replied that women are usually more attached to another group or family member; therefore, they might be living with them. In addition, since the shelter is for both men and women (no separate rooms) women may not feel comfortable sleeping there.
Andrea mentioned mental health, disability, addiction, and illnesses when we asked her what are the main reasons that lead to poverty. In addition, many of the homeless people have experienced some sort of major trauma in their lives, especially when they were children. Squamish Helping Hands Society has helped many homeless people in the long run too, by helping them get trained for a job, and also helping them find jobs. Andrea shared a success story of a woman who had been homeless almost all her life, and now at almost 60 years old she has her own apartment and has a job. It is cases like this that remind to Andrea how important her job is, and how she (and other workers and volunteers) is impacting people’s lives each day more and more.
This society is always looking for more helping hands. You can help volunteer in their kitchen, subcommittee, special projects, marketing, or sitting on their Board of Directors. According to Andrea you have to be over 18 years old to volunteer, however, if you are interested to volunteer and you are under 18 years old they can accommodate something for you (usually by having a conversation with your parent or guardian).
Discussing about poverty with my tutor Kaija, volunteering at the Squamish Helping Hands for an afternoon, and meeting Andrea has definitely reminded me how thankful I should be for having a roof over my head, food to eat, and for getting a great education at Quest University Canada.