With a couple bags of clothes in his hands George Strongling stood in the foyer of St. Saviour’s Church Parish Hall explaining how not only will he keep warm this winter, so will his whole family.
He was one of the more than 200 people who on Monday and Tuesday dropped by to peruse the clothing and blankets that were donated to the Cover With Kindness program to give away to those in need.
“It just will help a lot,” said Strongling. “It is cold out and this will help my whole family — my sisters, my girlfriend. I just want to say thank you to everyone who donated.”
Lisa Grey-Dreaper, a Cover With Kindness volunteer, said she conducts a headcount at the annual event and in the first 40 minutes the doors opened to St. Saviour’s they had doubled what she had seen for the first day in the same time period as last year. A total of 111 people dropped in on the first day and by noon Tuesday already 70-plus people had stopped by.
“It’s shocking to see how many people are in need, truly in need and how much they appreciate just a pair of socks and knowing they are going to be a little bit warmer for the rest of the day and the night if they are on the street,” said Grey-Dreaper. “There is a lot more need. A lot of new faces. Being in the community I see a lot of people that are here and there are definitely a lot of new faces.
“Everybody has a story here and we always have time to listen to what they have to say. What we take for granted these people cherish. The people that use this service always say thank you, there is always a Merry Christmas and actually I had someone try and give me a tip today.”
Smiles spread across the face of many of the clients as they slipped into new coats, found gloves to match or came away with a new winter wardrobe. One of those smiling faces belonged to Sandra Hall who has been homeless since last March and was at the church on the final day to find some warm clothing.
“It’s cold out there and it’s more important now than ever to have this,” she said sitting on the hall floor folding her clothing items and putting them in bags. “I don’t know how many years this has been going on but it’s awesome. We are just so blessed for clothing in this town. Businesses and people donate things throughout the year and the volunteers help us find what we need. You don’t even have to be on social assistance, if you need clothes that’s good enough for them.”
Donations were collected from the community since November at notary Greg Litwin’s office and continue to be accepted until Dec. 12 at St. Saviour’s Church Parish Hall, adjacent to the Soupateria on Orchard Avenue, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Grey-Draper said they are always in need of long johns and undergarments. This year people have been searching for snow pants and men’s size small pants.
Next year, the South Okanagan Real Estate Board will take over the operation to expand the program to neighbouring communities.
It has taken an army of volunteers to sort through items and have them ready for when the doors opened on Monday — that includes the Penticton Vees and volunteers from CIBC, BMO, SOREB, real estate offices, Scotiabank and many others.
Hope White was offering up her time on Monday to help keep the clothes and blankets organized and offer assistance to anyone who came in to find what they are looking for. She recognized many of the faces that were coming through the doors as clients of the Soupateria, where she has volunteered for almost five years.
“It is just great to see so many items donated,” she said. “Earlier today there was a person in here using this service that sat down at the piano in the hall and just started playing. They had to be playing at a Grade 12 level, it just goes to show that you never know someone’s history and you cannot judge them.”