Joseph Kirkey decorates his bird house at the friendship centre Tuesday. Mark Brett/Western News

Video: Penticton friendship centre fundraiser thinks outside the box

Ooknakane Friendship Centre in Penticton holds fundraiser for the breakfast program

What started with a few cups of coffee being handed out to those in need, now has grown into a full breakfast program being offered at the Ooknakane Friendship Centre.

Running Monday to Friday from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. for just over a year, seeing anywhere from 20 to 60 people use the service run by volunteers, the breakfast program kicked off a fundraiser on Tuesday to help ensure it continues.

“Originally, our concept was to repurpose pallets to planter boxes and birdhouses, but we ran into a battery of issues around that. So we scrapped that idea and we re-tooled it with fresh materials and started making that with our vulnerable sector population, which are predominately homeless individuals and people struggling with a number of secondary other issues,” said Matthew Baran, executive director of the Ooknakane Friendship Centre. “Our purpose behind that is to give purpose and meaning to somebody’s life. They receive a small gratuity for every planter and birdhouse they finish painting and in return we get to keep the birdhouses with their artwork on it, and we are going to sell those and put that money back into the breakfast program here at the Friendship Centre.”

Baran and his 91-year-old grandfather, Mike, built all the planter boxes and birdhouses which guests of the breakfast program sand and paint. Artist Jose Hernandez has helped put a team together to assist with the program which was provided a grant by the Community Foundation of Okanagan-Similkameen.

“I grew up in the South Bronx in New York City, so I know what it is like for life to be a little difficult sometimes. We need to find ways to help people recognize that they are people, and I think what happens in situations that are difficult, people tend to shun us. I think that projects like this help people get reunited. It helps build up self-esteem, helps us feel good about ourselves.”

There is no theme or style that constrain the painters. Instead, all they ask is they put a bit of themselves into the artwork.

“You understand when you buy it you are not only giving back but you’re helping someone build a life back. It’s not an industry type thing where they bang them out … this is made by a being, a person with spirit, feelings and emotions. We want to capture that in these pieces,” said Hernandez.

Baron said the Friendship Centre is not mandated to run the breakfast program, but they saw a growing need for it. Cobbs, the Salvation Army and the Soupateria have been big supporters providing donations of food items.

“Right now, our biggest need is money to buy breakfast items and to be able to provide the small things like jam, or hygiene packs to hand out to guests and Christmas dinner,” said Baran. “We want to be able to help everyone that comes through these doors, and you know when its freezing outside and some of these people don’t have anywhere to go or haven’t moved into a cold weather shelter yet, they are going to have a bad day. Anything we can do to help alleviate that is a good thing.”

The Friendship Centre is working on a few locations that planter boxes and birdhouses will be for sale. In the meantime, those interested in purchasing can do so at the centre (146 Ellis St.).

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