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Chilliwack service club packs Christmas gift bags for women experiencing homelessness

‘We’re grateful for these comforts to provide to people in our community,’ says Fraser Health official
Left to right: Kathy Doerksen, Heather Rollins and Holly Saitz of the Chilliwack Soroptomists filled gift packages at The Rendezvous restaurant Wednesday (Nov. 16). The bags are going to be handed out to unhoused women. (Eric J. Welsh/ Chilliwack Progress)

Members of Soroptomist International of Chilliwack partnered with a homelessness outreach team from Fraser Health to provide Christmas gift packs to hand out to unhoused women on Chilliwack streets and in encampments.

The busy club is keenly focused on transforming the lives of Chilliwack girls and women with its service work, and Soroptomist members were at The Rendezvous restaurant last week packing the festive bags that contain everything from warm gloves, hygiene items to chocolate, and more.

The gift packages were being handed out to those experiencing homelessness on Tuesday, Nov. 22, which just happens to be National Housing Day in Canada.

RELATED: Chilliwack has high rate of homeless women

Soroptimist Helen Hugh said the whole project came together organically after she met a young nurse with the integrated homelessness action response team (IHART) while at an open clay studio event in Chilliwack.

They were talking about how tight budgets are and how many homeless people there seem to be in Chilliwack. They touched on how difficult it was to not to be able to provide more services and relief to those struggling.

“I asked her what they would need if we filled some packages,” Hugh remembered. Then she brought the idea for gift packs to the small club, and everyone wanted in.

The IHART nurse spoke to the club on the night they were packing the bags, and some of the stories brought them to ears.

“It made us grateful that we have a home since we’re all just one circumstance away from being homeless,” Hugh said.

It was a total “morale booster” for all concerned, and hopefully the gift bags will be well received by the 60 women they’re destined for. Each package has about 20 special items: socks, gloves, chocolate, hygiene items, nail polish, candy all in a hand-sewn holiday fabric bag.

The gift bags each had little facecloth and a small soap tucked into a baggie.

“They all came with a holiday card and the hope is that they feel some joy knowing that someone was thinking about them,” Hugh said. “Every woman deserves to feel special - especially at Christmas.”

The IHART members are able to respond to health, substance, and mental health issues with wrap-around support services, health promotion, prevention, and links to care.

The Christmas packs are a huge bonus for the outreach professionals to have at their fingertips.

“Our Integrated Homelessness Action Response Teams meet people where they are at, whether it’s in shelters, isolation centres, homeless encampments, or other places where community members experiencing homelessness may congregate,” explained Tabitha McLaughlin, regional manager of IHARTs for Fraser Health.

“We’re grateful for these additional comforts to provide to people in our community who may be vulnerable and struggling to get by, especially as the weather gets wetter and colder.”

There are nine IHARTs operating in the Fraser Health region in: Chilliwack, Abbotsford/Mission, Maple Ridge, Burnaby, Surrey, Tri-Cities, New Westminster, Langley, and Hope. The teams comprise nurses, clinicians and support workers who work with colleagues in public health, home health and mental health and substance use to ensure people get care that is tailored to their needs. They stabilize and treat people who have new and chronic conditions, facilitate access to primary care and addictions medicine, and support transition to housing.

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Dana Martin (left), Sandy Mather (right) and other members of the Chilliwack Soroptomists gathered at the Rendezvous restaurant Wednesday (Nov. 16) to assemble and fill bags for unhoused women. (Eric J. Welsh/ Chilliwack Progress)

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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