Theresa Davey knows what it’s like to be on the streets of Thunder Bay, so volunteering at one of the northwestern Ontario city’s emergency shelters is more than just a way to give back.
His son found Grace Place for the first time and told him about the soup and sandwiches served there. So he went and was able to access free food and clothing.
“I came to Thunder Bay in 2007 and I was basically homeless and on the streets,” Davey said.
In 2009, she got married at Grace Place and a few years later, she put her cleaning skills to use and became a full-time volunteer. Davey said the organization has also helped her son, who died in 2014, as well as her daughter in her efforts to “start over.”
“At the end of the day, I feel really good that I was able to do something productive for society,” said Davey, who is among the 70 to 80 people who donate their time to keep Grace Place running. “I’m a recovering alcoholic, so this really helped me a lot. [have] a balanced life.”
Located on the south side of town, Grace Place offers lunch Monday through Wednesday, a free clothing store, and an Out of the Cold program from October through the end of April.
With the cost of living constantly increasing and Increased demands on food banks and shelters. To meet growing needs, there is pressure to keep vulnerable people across Canada safe and healthy this winter.
“We started with 10 loaves of bread and served hot soup,” Melody Macsemchuk, co-founder and operations manager of Grace Place, said of the organization’s start 16 years ago.
“Now we serve a full meal and last year we served 90,000 meals, and we’re seeing an increase during the day.”
Hundreds of meals a day
While numbers vary depending on the time of month, the kitchen can serve between 350 and 400 meals each day it is open.
Lunch is served at 1:00 pm and people can take food to go or sit down to eat. There is also a window for those who prefer not to enter.
Sarah Thompson said Macsemchuk and her husband, Gary, bought their son his first pair of skates.
“[As a] single mother who had just moved to the city, things were difficult and they helped me,” she said.
For the past seven years she has worked as a volunteer there. She does a little bit of everything, but mostly helps out at the dishwashing station.
“It feels good,” Thompson said. “It’s become like a family, really.”
‘A home away from home’
As soon as they close for lunch, volunteers begin putting away tables and chairs to make room for the organization’s Out of the Cold program, a low-barrier emergency shelter for people who can’t stay at other city facilities. .
Last year, Grace Place had between 15 and 18 compassion mats, which are used as beds, but increased the number to 25 due to demand.
“We try to fill shelters in other areas before they refer us because we are the last resort. If a client has restrictions, they will refer them to us,” Macsemchuk explained.
Volunteers receive training in trauma-informed approaches and nonviolent crisis intervention. They play relaxing music and offer clients a meal, a shower, clean pajamas, and a place to safely store their belongings for the night. They can wash the clothes they arrived in and have a hot breakfast before leaving.
“Grace Place from the beginning has tried to be a home away from home, where people can come in and seek shelter, rest and get what they need, whether it’s food or clothing,” Macsemchuk said.
This summer, community workers noticed that more people were sleeping outdoors than ever before. When asked how that will affect Grace Place this winter, Macsemchuk said it shows the need for continued collaboration between service providers.
“We have already had meetings where… [if] “Whether it’s adding more warm spaces or more shelter beds, we’re all working together to make sure no one goes out in the cold,” he said. “I think hopefully we’ll be successful again this year.”
In terms of long-term solutions, while the obvious answer is more housing, Macsemchuk also said he would like to see public bathrooms and showers accessible to the city’s vulnerable population.
“Yeah [people] “If they are in a tent city, they can come in and access these spaces,” he said.