I’m not a country music aficionado, but I like that old Merle Haggard Christmas song “If We Make It Through December.” It’s a nice metaphor for the season, with the desperate hope of someone just holding on for a better tomorrow. “If we make it through December, everything’s gonna be alright. I know it’s the coldest time of winter, and I shiver when I see the falling snow.” Lovely song. No matter that December is just the beginning of winter (and also not the coldest time of winter) and that the need will be just as great throughout the rest of the year.
As a new front-desk volunteer this year, I discovered quickly that it was very easy to discern which holidays were approaching simply based off the décor in the YWCA. I saw the YWCA change from cozy to spooky when Halloween approached and cobwebs hung from the ceiling. However, nothing could compare to the Christmas spirit that I felt this December.
I entered my first December volunteer shift feeling the stress from impending exams and last minute assignments to find the YWCA transformed overnight to something seemingly decorated by Cindy Lou Who herself. My senses were immediately bombarded with sparkle and the smell of peppermint making it impossible to feel anything but absolute joy. It was amazing to see how the presence of a Christmas tree and a few other decorations seemed to change the entire morale within the shelter. It seemed as if the happiness was contagious as many of the guests began discussing how grateful they were for being able to stay in the shelter over the holiday season, a time when so many struggle to find shelter and food.
The Christmas spirit seemed to continually infect everyone in the shelter as mid-December approached. The willingness of the guests to help one another within the shelter was very inspiring as they offered their time and advice to others. Most touching was watching one guest help another guest, an older woman who was unable to speak English, call landlords and visit prospective rental properties. This guest also took it upon herself to help this older woman learn the bus system in St. Catharines and showed her around the area. The older woman was so grateful that she began to cry (I might have been crying by this point too) and described how the YWCA was her Christmas miracle.
The Christmas spirit, however, did not end at the confines of the YWCA property. It rather seemed as if all of St. Catharines was in the giving mood, providing the YWCA with very generous donations. The previously barren Kate Leonard room became piled high with donations including personal care products and winter jackets. I was also finally
forced able to learn how to fill out a donation receipt as generous people flooded the YWCA with monetary donations. I also saw numerous students finish off exams and immediately come in to inquire about volunteer opportunities within the shelter.
Perhaps it was a sugar high from helping myself to a bucket of candy canes at the front desk, but I really felt more in the Christmas spirit during these days volunteering than I could after any Christmas movie marathon. And while the importance of decorations can seem very miniscule in the grand scheme of things, their ability to awaken the holiday spirit cannot be taken lightly. Also, the importance of donating even something as simple as time (especially if you’re a broke student like me) is crucial to the running of community organizations who rely on volunteers to function. It also allows us to remember how lucky we are to have shelter, food, family and friends in the holiday season.
Lorraine Snihur is the Charity Support Manager of Trade Bank Canada, the largest multi-directional barter exchange company in the country, helping not-for-profit organizations cut costs effectively. She is also one of the many dedicated supporters and participants in the YW No Fixed Address event, sitting as the Chair of the Activities & Entertainment committee since 2013.
Born and raised in Vineland, Lorraine says that helping not-for-profits is not only part of her job, but also a great passion of hers. She believes that we are all put on this earth for a purpose and reminds her two children about the importance of making a difference in the world around them. Participating in No Fixed Address is one of the ways that the Snihur family has shown their commitment to making a difference in the community.
I had the opportunity to chat with Lorraine about her family’s ongoing support and participation in No Fixed Address.
YW: What first caught your attention about No Fixed Address in 2013?
LS: This was an event that stood out from the others, although all fundraisers have their draw, NFA seemed to me to be more of an experience, a commitment and a way that we can help make a difference in our community.
YW: Why did you choose to register as a team with your family, rather than as an individual?
LS: Poverty doesn’t only affect adults…my children have seen signs of poverty at their school when a student doesn’t have a lunch or can’t find the money to participate in a class trip. They understand that not everyone is as fortunate as they are and that we all have to work together to make a difference. If we just turn our heads and look the other way exactly what are we teaching our children? Poverty is not a choice, it is a massive road block for so many people and families in our community and as part of our community they deserve our respect and our help.
YW: What was your first family experience like at No Fixed Address? What was it like trying to fit yourself and your children into one car for the night?
LS: The activities held throughout the day really shed some light on what life would be like if we didn’t have the opportunities that we have. It really opened all of our eyes to the “What if’s”. Sure, we were able to get out of our vehicle when we wanted, and sure we had food and activities to keep us entertained but this event was different. Part of it was fun for the kids as they were able to sleep in the truck however it wasn’t long before they realized how uncomfortable it really was and how horrible it would be if this was all we had to call our home. It provided our family the opportunity to openly talk about what life would be like – crammed in in a vehicle with none of the things that we take for granted each and every day.
YW: What are some of the things that you and your children have learned from No Fixed Address?
LS: We have learned that poverty isn’t a word only used to describe the situation in third world countries….it is in our backyard. We have learned that poverty doesn’t mean that the people affected by it are bums with no jobs and no drive to make a better life…it can happen to anyone at any time…it can be a result of job loss, sickness etc.
YW: How has No Fixed Address changed yours and your family’s perspective on homelessness?
LS: When we see a homeless person now, we are not quick to judge as we have no idea what path their life has taken then to lead them to homelessness. We have also realized that just because someone seems fine on the outside doesn’t mean that they are not one pay cheque away from losing their home or have to choose between feeding their family and paying for heat. It has made us become more aware, more grateful and more responsible for what we do have. It has made us think harder and longer about our time here and how we can make a difference – this was definitely an experience to remember and one that we are grateful for.
Do you and your family want to be a part of No Fixed Address this summer? Register here and begin your journey of creating change in the community.