Thursday, October 1, 2009

A day for compassion, the ultimate renewable resource

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

Friday, marks Barrie’s first ‘Day of Compassion’, an event bringing the community together in mutual support of those in poverty to help them prepare for winter.

This initiative is organized and hosted by the Barrie chapter of the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness, an umbrella group of social agencies, government programs, charities, religious groups, and non-government organizations working to serve the vulnerable in society. As Green Party housing critic, I’ve been an Alliance member for several years.

People helped by Alliance members include the homeless and those lacking suitable or affordable housing, but also people with physical or mental health issues or disabilities, addiction problems, broken family situations, as well as victims of violence, or anyone else who is having trouble coping or thriving on their own.

Not just street people but children, families, and seniors. Taken together, they represent a large segment of our community. It is said that a society can be judged by how it treats its least fortunate. From that perspective, the Alliance partners are on the leading edge of keeping Barrie special, instead of becoming a rather unpleasant place.

But we shouldn’t leave it all to those dedicated few – we can each do our part. The Day of Compassion is a chance for every part of the community to pull together in offering a hand up. It’s an all-day event providing a full spectrum of services to those in need.

There will be free winter clothing, blankets, groceries, toiletries, and other needed items distributed. Free services such as hair cuts will be provided. Professional advice from nurses, dental hygienists, and diabetic specialists will be given, along with support for pregnant women and new mothers. Information on how to receive assistance, or access Ontario Works or disability or other programs will be available. All that plus lunch and dinner served for anyone who is hungry.

Many in the community have already come forward to offer goods, time, or other support; Barrie’s generosity is truly great. But the need is great, too, and there is always room for more caring.

How can you help? You can provide donations of clean, serviceable used clothing to be distributed for re-use. Socks and winter clothes are in highest demand; sleeping bags are a treasure.

You can bring dry goods to refill the shelves at the Grocery Assistance Program, which provides food bank services. You can donate money to help the various programs, or find out how to volunteer your time. If you are a business and can donate clearance items folks would need, we’d love to hear from you – it’s great when the business community can assist the working poor and help prevent poverty. Toiletries like razors, toothbrushes, and toothpaste are in especially high demand. If you are a restaurateur or food preparer, you can bring a pot or tray of food to help us feed some of the attendees and volunteers. We have a kitchen to re-heat or keep warm as necessary.

If you know someone having trouble making ends meet, you can let them know about the event, or even offer them a ride. If you are finding your own finances strained, don’t be shy about coming down. There is no stigma, and we’re not asking anyone to lay out their finances or fill in a form in order to take part; anyone requesting help will be helped. It’s better to get a hand up now to stay on level footing as we enter another Barrie winter.

The event is today from noon to 8 p.m. at the Barrie Community Health Centre and Barrie Young People’s Centre, on Maple Avenue at the corner of Ross Street. With your help, it will be a great success. If you’d like to volunteer, or can bring a meal to serve, please contact 725-0163, ext. 224, or e-mail

Your assistance will be greatly appreciated, by the volunteers and by the needy. What’s more, it will give you a great feeling as you help to share your good fortune with those less fortunate. Donating used clothes is a great way of recycling, but ultimately it is love and compassion which are our greatest renewable resources.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a teacher, father, volunteer and politician.

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