Making the Chilliwack connection to a better life

Chilliwack Connect volunteers helped 600 people in a special day of support last year. More are expected this year

Hair stylist Kim Eeg of Undine's gives William Wingert a haircut during the third annual Chilliwack Connect at First Avenue Christian Assembly.

Hair stylist Kim Eeg of Undine's gives William Wingert a haircut during the third annual Chilliwack Connect at First Avenue Christian Assembly.

A little pampering can go a long way.

That’s the premise behind Chilliwack Connect — a day set aside to “love up” those in Chilliwack who are in need.

The immediate goal is to provide food, clothing and personal care to people who are having a hard time making ends meet. The long term goal is to lift people out of the cycle of poverty, by connecting them to service providers and organizations that can help.

And the need has never been so great in Chilliwack as it is right now. The homeless count is estimated to be well over 300, truly an explosion in numbers from the 74 homeless people counted in 2014.

But Chilliwack Connect is not just for the homeless, notes organizer Richard Niezen.

“Anybody and everybody is welcome,” he says.

Anyone having a rough time mentally or physically, or who just needs a day to connect with other people who care, is welcome to come take part. Many more people are feeling the pinch from a tight housing market, and may be having a harder time than ever making ends meet after paying for housing.

It’s a level of poverty that’s sometimes harder to see, but it’s there, he says.

So, at Chilliwack Connect, everyone is invited through the doors. In the first year it was offered, about 300 people showed up. Last year, more than 600 people showed up. This year, they expect that number to rise again.

But they’re prepared. When they swing open the doors on Saturday, Oct. 1 for this year’s Connect event, they will embrace everyone equally. There will be stations for hair washing, cuts and stylings. There will be stations offering total foot care, from a foot soak and massage to a brand new pair of socks. There will be hot food, and food to take home. There will be a chiropractor, child care services, a photographer, and plenty of kindness.

There will also be racks and racks of clothes for guests to look through, for themselves and their children. But the donations of clothing to date has been a little lower this year than in years past, and Niezen is hoping Chilliwack residents will look through their own closets for lightly used, seasonably appropriate clothing and footwear. Some of the other items needed are winter coats, warm pants, shirts for all sizes, shoes, and even blankets.

Donations can be dropped off at the Royal LePage office  (#8 – 8337 Young Rd.) They are also in need of clothes hangers, to hang the clothes on the racks for easier sorting.  They remind people donating that they do not want used socks or underwear, as they use cash donations to purchase these items brand new.

They could also use a few more volunteers. Some of the tasks people could end up doing include serving up food, providing some security, or greeting and guiding guests through the stations as hosts. As people enter, they write down their name and list the services they are interested in. Then a host will take the guests from station to station to set up appointments throughout the day.

In addition to more clothing donations, they are hoping for cash donations. They are also a little short on hairstylists offering services for the day.

Among the volunteers who will be on hand are City Life Church’s Master’s Commissions students.

“About 25 people are coming from that program, half of them are first-year students,” Niezen says, and the other half are students finishing the program who come back and mentor the others. That group will be the ones offering foot washing and foot massages, he said, and anything else that needs doing.

“They help out wherever it’s needed. They do not complain, they do exactly as they’re asked, and they have just an amazing attitude,” he says.

Chilliwack Connect is brought to the community through the efforts of a volunteer committee, and is not a government funded program. They receive donations from local businesses, churches, community services and individuals who all come together for a day filled with giving. It’s also become an important day of making connections, where people can learn about services designed to help them or provide resources.

“We want to get them connected,” he says. “In turn this will help get out of their poverty cycle, and really that is the goal of the day.”

As the participants leave the event, they are given a ‘goodie bag’ filled with treats, such as $5 gift cards, and basic toiletries, new socks, mittens toques and some basic food items like granola bars. Whatever leftover food is there is also packed up and sent with guests, so nothing goes to waste.

“Typically with the food we are making sure we have enough for about 750 or 800 people,” says Niezen, who is a chef by trade. “I tell everyone if they ask for more your answer is yes. They get ‘no’ all year long, so if they want more roast beef on their plate, we make sure they have it.”

The committee has also been able to get fruits, vegetables and day old bakery items to pack up. And for the kids who attend, there’s a special treat.

“We do a kids gift bag,” Neizen says. “There is a kids area available for a couple hours in the morning, and at the end they get a little backpack full of supplies.”

And everyone get some ice cream on the way out the door, Niezen adds.

Chilliwack Connect will take place on Oct. 1 at First Avenue Christian Assembly from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Donations will be accepted up until Tuesday, Sept. 27.

For more information, connect with the Chilliwack Connect committee on Facebook or Twitter.