How students can get involved with Thunder Bay Shelter House
By Leah Ching, Staff Writer
Shelter House is Thunder Bay’s largest homeless shelter, located on George Street in the downtown south core. Winning the 2015 Not-For-Profit Excellence Award, Shelter House has a longstanding reputation in the Thunder Bay community for the care it provides to some of the most disenfranchised persons in the city. Shelter House serves its community 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with hard work from its Board of Directors, members of staff, and countless volunteers.
The Shelter House is Northern Ontario’s largest homeless shelter, sleeping 77 people nightly, and serving 500+ meals daily. Focused on providing short-term care and support, and helping people become healthier and safer, Shelter House coordinates and serves lunch and dinner, gives sandwiches out throughout the day, and runs many activities and services. One of these includes the recently added Street Outreach Service Program, which runs 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The work done at Shelter House is quite unique and serves an integral role in the city. The staff and volunteers interacts with hundreds of people of different races, ages, and backgrounds daily to provide a safe, warm place to those who otherwise may have nowhere else to turn. A unique aspect of Shelter House is the way in which the organization is committed to serve people who may abuse substances and are intoxicated. While this is challenging work, the organization’s commitment reflects the values of Shelter House – believing that everyone deserves shelter, regardless of circumstances.
The Argus spoke with Volunteer Coordinator Marsha Ledger to get some more information about what it’s like to work in such a busy and challenging, yet important organization.
Having assumed her role in September of last year, Marsha admits that her job on the daily is a whirlwind, being in charge of coordinating all the volunteers that come through Shelter House.
Nearly 17,000 people in Thunder Bay live in low income situations, with homelessness on the rise since governments have stopped funding social housing construction. A variety of complex social conditions like lack of physical and mental health, lack of employment or income, and violence or abuse in the home can result in homelessness. Shelter House notes that “it can happen to anyone. From a teenager escaping an abusive care giver, to a senior citizen on a fixed income facing a rent or tax increase… The spiral from stability to distress can happen in the space of a five minute meeting.” Shelter House Thunder Bay is a way for all members of the community to answer the call to combat poverty and homelessness and help the least fortunate persons in the community.
Marsha filled the Argus in on what students can do to get involved. “Individuals can talk to me and we’d find a place to help them volunteer here at any time on any day. There’s always a need to be filled, whether it’s in the kitchen making meals, or making sandwiches for folks that stop in and are hungry, or working in the gardens during the summer, or helping out at an event. We also have people that go around to supermarkets grocery stores and places like Starbucks to collect fresh produce, pastry, and other foods on a daily basis. Every volunteer plays an integral role to Shelter House.”
She also commented on the importance of groups that run nightly soup kitchens, preparing and serving meals to members of the community. Churches, sports teams, social groups and others all take up days on the calendar to cook and serve meals. “This is important because meals are cooked twice a day, 365 days a year. If no volunteers show up one day, it’s up to a staff of two permanent staff and one student to cook and serve these huge meals of 500.”
Marsha continues “There are so many ways to volunteer. Running a soup kitchen with a group, being a general volunteer, or being a volunteer driver picking up food for us, volunteers are who keep the Shelter House running and able to serve the community as it does.”
As someone who’s volunteered with Shelter House, the author of this article thoroughly enjoys working soup kitchens with a group of peers. Soup kitchens are not only fast paced and important work, but getting to search through the food storage rooms, walk in fridges and freezers is a fun part of the task. Hand picking items and preparing a hearty meal for the masses that you’ve crafted not only puts your creativity to work, but is an incredibly rewarding experience.
Working at the Shelter House and seeing the poverty that exists in the community can also be an incredibly daunting task. Mothers with newborn children, homeless teenagers, and men in suits who can’t afford meals for their families after work are all among the visitors. People are sometimes so hungry that after all the meat is finished, they’ll eat plain rice with salt to fill their stomachs. Volunteering at Shelter House is an incredibly real reminder of the suffering and poverty in our community. Volunteering with Shelter House is not only a rewarding way to spend a few hours a week, but an incredibly real way to engage with a need in our community, and encounter a reality that is sometimes far too easy to turn a blind eye to.
Ms. Ledger stated that “Lakehead Students have been good to us. We have had a soup kitchen run by the Basketball team among others, you guys have been awesome, and I look forward to working with more of you in the coming months.”