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Community organizations prepare for Summerside families in need this Christmas season

Darlene MacDonald, manager of the Summerside Salvation Army Food Bank, gets help from Major Wayne Green to fill a Christmas Hamper. Millicent McKay/Journal Pioneer
Darlene MacDonald, manager of the Summerside Salvation Army Food Bank, gets help from Major Wayne Green to fill a Christmas Hamper. - Millicent McKay
SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. —

It takes a lot to fill the shelves of the Salvation Army Food Bank.

And with an expected 500 applications to the organization's annual Christmas Kettle Hampers campaign, there's lots of work to be done.

"When people are without, everyone hurts," said Salvation Army Major L. Wayne Green.  

Green, originally from Newfoundland, came out of retirement to run the Summerside location when the former captains left earlier this year.

He said the number of people using the food bank and hamper services increases every year.

"Last year, for hampers, we had about 400. This year we're expecting 500 hampers (which could include food and toys). We've got about 450 right now."

As for the food bank, on average there are about 65 to 75 clients a week. Around the holidays and the wintertime, that increases to about 90.

"Whether you think you're stable, we all know house expenses go up in the winter. If you're a low-income salary or fixed income the adjustments to keep the lights on can hurt them more than others," said Green.

According to a 2017 census by Statistics Canada, 15,000 people (about 10 per cent of the population) on Prince Edward Island qualified as low income. This is based on the 2008 Market Basket Measure - a measure of low income based on the cost of specific basket goods and services representing a modest, basic standard of living.

Major Wayne Green of the Summerside Salvation Army carries in boxes of pasta donated by Consolidated Credit Union in Summerside.
Major Wayne Green of the Summerside Salvation Army carries in boxes of pasta donated by Consolidated Credit Union in Summerside. - Millicent McKay

"The number of people living in poverty is alarming," said Belinda Woods, founder of the Free Store in Summerside.

She said each year the number of people who come to the store for clothing, household goods and other needs increases.

"Usually, we'll go through a couple of hundred winter coats in a season. This year, we've already gone through 300 winter coats.

About 300 people come through the store in an hour on a shopping day.

Woods said the number of patrons at the store this time of year rises by about 20 per cent.

There's a lot of people who fall through the cracks, she said.

"I was on my own when I was 14. I left home in November. I was a single mom for years, so trying to get along at this time of season can be hard."

There are so many different programs out there. How can someone still be without? Woods questioned.

"And homelessness is something that is not talked about. We need to take off our rose-coloured glasses."

In 2014, Statistics Canada reported eight per cent of Canadians aged 15 and over had experienced "hidden homelessness" - that is at some point in their lives, they had to temporarily live with family, friends, in their car, or elsewhere because they had nowhere else to live.

Woods said some people have to substitute one need for another, like electricity in order to afford groceries or a winter coat.

"Some people aren't prepared for the weather because they can't afford to be. We can't keep warm blankets in the store because not everyone can afford to keep the heat on."

For Green, his main concern this time of year is making sure everyone wakes up Christmas morning with the smell of a turkey cooking and a present under the tree.

His mother died at 90 years old. When she was 85, Green and his wife got her a doll as a present. Green was skeptical his mother would like the gift.

"She just wept. She told me it was the first doll she ever had in her life. I don't want any kid to get to 85 and then get their first doll."


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