The holiday season celebrates family, gathering with loved ones, big indulgent meals and giving.
As we rush up and down Baker Street in search of last minute gifts, it’s not uncommon to hear the faint echo of bells as we pop in and out of stores.
The bells of the Salvation Army kettle are a common sound during Christmas, but it’s easy to forget what is behind the jingle of the kettle.
A local man named David started stopping into the Salvation Army’s drop-in centre about two and a half years ago when Majors Yvonne and Robin Borrows moved to Nelson.
“He recognized us from our work in Calgary, because that’s where we came from, and we used to run street ministries there,” said Yvonne.
David had been homeless for nearly 10 years and for several months called a shredded tent near Kootenay lake his home.
Morning after morning, he began showing up at the drop-in centre.
“In the process of getting to know him. He started volunteering and hanging out here because he had nothing else to do. He’d volunteer and he works really well,” said Yvonne.
David would help make coffee, hand out breakfast to everyone who had stopped by that morning and then help with the clean up in the end.
“I’ve got to tell you, all he wants is a job,” said Yvonne. “He works like a horse. It’s not an issue of work, he just can’t find it. We don’t have any answers for people like him, but he’s a good guy.”
Over time Yvonne and Robin began helping David in whatever way they could.
They’d give him a little bit of extra food in the morning and eventually connected him to Nelson’s emergency shelter, Stepping Stones.
“Through Bev [Derby] at Stepping Stones, they helped him find housing,” said Yvonne. “He’s been housed now for a year and maintained it. He’s been homeless for nearly 10 years, and he’s been housed now for a year and doing extremely well.”
David gives back not only at the Salvation Army, but also where he can around town.
Yvonne said that he desperately wants a job so he can buy himself a 12 string guitar.
“He’s really excited today because someone he volunteers for gave him a very nice gift that he’s been wanting,” she said.
This Christmas, David was given his 12 string guitar.
“Sometimes what we do is provide volunteer opportunities for people who haven’t been working for a long time,” said Robin. “They’ve almost lost a work ethic or an ability to show up and work. When they come and volunteer it gives them a since of self worth. They’re giving so that they feel better about themselves and we’ve seen people like David just blossom because they’ve been able to volunteer and give back and not focus on their own issues as much as focusing on helping others. It’s been a wonderful experience for him.”
David and a host of other volunteers have been busy at the Salvation Army putting together and sending out Christmas hampers.
Yvonne said the Sally Ann is sending out 308 hampers to those in need this Christmas.
“What we do here is provide Christmas dinner for families that otherwise couldn’t afford it,” said Yvonne. “If they’re on welfare or low income it allows them to use what little bit of extra money they may have for extra things at Christmas time. The things that you and I might normally buy, that these people may not, it frees up a little bit for them and it gives them an opportunity to have a Christmas hopefully.”
Yvonne and Robin are participating in their second Christmas at the Nelson Salvation Army and said this time of year is hard.
“It’s hard when we see people who don’t have enough for Christmas,” said Robin. “There is consumerism all around us. People see others going to the mall and pulling toys out for their kids and go to the grocery store. The pressure is on for people to supply for their families and when you can’t do that it’s really disheartening. It’s really depressing.”
Yvonne said it’s not uncommon for them to see families where the mom or dad are not eating so that their children can eat.
“It makes you aware of what you don’t have and we find that very difficult especially when we see families coming in and it’s a real struggle for them to walk through our doors and ask for help,” said Yvonne. “We do have a lot of families where that’s a huge struggle for them. We’re wiping away tears and the whole thing. But we try to tell people all the time that that’s what we’re here for, we’re here for the people that really do need it.”
Despite getting an outpouring of gratitude from those who come through the doors, Yvonne said the memories that stick with them are of the people who are really hurting and struggle to come through the doors of the Salvation Army.
“We struggle with that because in this day and age there’s absolutely no reason for people to go hungry,” said Yvonne. “I met a dad recently who’s choosing not to eat because he thought his children needed to eat, and for him to come through this door was brutal. Those stories are heartbreaking.”
A large portion of the food that is handed out is donated, but Yvonne said some is purchased from the money that locals are dropping in the Christmas kettles around town.
“As of today we’ve spent about $11,000, and we’ve still got four days of hampers to pack yet,” said Yvonne.
Despite the pain that Yvonne and Robin see at this time of year, there is also a lot of joy.
“Sometimes when we’re in here and we get the music going, we’re having fun too, because it can be. We know that we’re helping somebody out,” said Yvonne.
Robin emphasized that all the money being dropped in the kettles and through the mail by locals says in Nelson.