Returning the Warmth
If it wasn’t 2017, the word may have come in a letter, or perhaps overheard in a coffee shop.
But this is 2017, and I learned about this story through a Facebook post.
My questions filtered through my head, but I didn’t really pay them much attention. The day was sunny, and as I drove my car toward downtown Oshawa, that’s what I was thinking about. The rain had finally stopped, and the streets were filled with people as the warmth seeped back into the world.
My car bumped up into the parking lot, joining a single tiny sedan parking in the small concrete square behind Simcoe Street United Church.
I squinted up at the tall brick spire looking like it was trying to pierce the sun like a needle into a balloon, then turned my attention to the door.
The back door.
It belonged to the Back Door Mission for the Relief of Poverty, a local organization in Oshawa (separate from the church it is attached to) that provides food, coffee, meal tickets and much more to people in need through the Oshawa area.
I walk through the doors and down a thin hallway, sliding past a man in stained track pants and a black shirt with a wild design on it.
The hallway leads to a gymnasium, where large windows set high into the walls cast a natural glow around the entire room. A collection of old wooden tables, the kind I recognize from my elementary school art class, are spread about the room, the chairs before them occupied by people eating cookies and drinking coffee. My camera hangs around my shoulder, and before I can think about doing anything else, I’m greeted by a stout man with thin wisps of grey hair on either side of his bald pate and a warm smile. Purple and blue bruises surround his right eye. He shakes my hand as I introduce myself.
He has a quiet, but deep voice.
This is Don, the Mission’s president for the last two years.
I ask for a moment of his time, which is graciously offered and he takes me back through the hallway I came in and into a small office. There’s bookshelves filled with binders and books on the wall opposite the door. A large novelty cheque tops one of the shelves like a crown.
We sit down.
He already knows why I’m here.
The Mission needs help.
At Christmas, the pantry at the Mission, like those of many foodbanks in the Durham area, are filled with the generosity of the community within which they sit. The shelves bloated with cans of non-perishables and boxed goods, personifications of the season of giving.
However, when the snow melts and the warm weather arrives, it seems those good intentions dry up, and the places where those non-perishables once sat are replaced with dust.
“People kind of associate need with the winter,” Don tells me, sipping his steaming coffee from the small styrofoam cup in his hand. I graciously drink half of mine in one go. It’s almost lunch and I haven’t had a single drop of caffeine yet that day.
You see, that Facebook post that put me in that chair, was a cry for help, a call for donations.
The Back Door Mission needs non-perishables, boxed food, preferably anything that lasts and you don’t need to open with a can opener. A lot of the clientele at the Back Door Mission don’t own such amenities; can’t afford them.
They also need clothing, and in particular, shoes.
“These folks live on their feet,” says Don. “They are walking everywhere because they can’t afford transit. So they go through footwear at a fair rate.”
I nod, looking down at the thick, comfortable soles of the leather boots strapped to my feet.
I turn back to Don.
Our conversation meanders through a number of topics as we sip our coffee and talk about the various issues hitting Oshawa’s needy the most.
He’s a hard worker, it’s evident. That black eye I mentioned? He got it slipping off a stool while changing light bulbs. He’s also a bit stiff from adding Mexican tiling to the ceiling of his home.
And while the Back Door Mission is only open three days a week, Don wants to make it five.
Because right now, people are having a hard time affording the bare minimum.
The culprit? Durham’s surging real estate market and ridiculous rental rates.
“If you at least reduce the need to pay for food by making a free meal available, you help out a little bit with the living accommodation,” Don says.
Right now, approximately 100 people a day walk through the doors at the Mission for help, whether that’s for something to eat, a hot cup of coffee, or just to talk with friends. The Mission’s supports are both physical and mental.
“This is an important place for people to socialize, to kind of meet their friends, to get a sense of self-worth (and) being a community,” Don tells me.
I sip my coffee. It’s empty.
We step back out into the gymnasium where I meet Lianne, the Mission’s program coordinator. She shakes my hand too, and thanks me for coming. I tell her it was my pleasure.
A few remaining people sit at the tables. A couple glance at the camera slung over my shoulder uneasily.
I take a few photos of Don, moving him about the interior of the room and getting the tables and people enjoying the benefits of his labour in the background.
After that, I move around the room and snap a few more photos before shaking Don’s hand one last time and heading out the door.
It’s a shame, but I’ve written many stories just like the one that I know I will write about this latest interview. It’s an ongoing thing that those community organizations that help out our city’s most needy, are almost always in need themselves.
And sure, the generosity pours in at Christmas time, but it’s clearly becoming evident that it isn’t enough. Giving can not come and go with the seasons.
Sitting at a red light, watching the people mill about in the warmth of the world outside, I find myself wanting to do more. I find myself wanting to write a story, a different story, a story that just like the changing of the weather, will draw people into the light and will return warmth to the world.
If you’re in the Oshawa, Durham or GTA are, there are many ways to donate. Items can be dropped off at the Back Door Mission, located at 66 Simcoe Street South or donation can be made online at www.backdoormission.ca.