Submitted By Meredith Bongers

I can’t imagine not having a warm bed to sleep in at night. I can’t imagine waking up and wondering if I was going to eat. My whole life I have been quite blessed. I have never had to want for anything: if I am thirsty, I drink, when I’m hungry I eat, and when I’m tired I wrap myself in a clean warm blanket and drift off in my safe, comfortable bed. 

For more than 2,000 homeless Edmontonians, these simple basic needs aren’t an option. In fact, for far too many, they are a luxury.  And if there is one thing I have learned working at United Way it’s that poverty isn’t a choice, it’s a complex reality, and it can happen to anyone. Loss of job, unexpected illness, mental health, are all real life issues that can happen to any of us.  And while United Way is working on a long-term strategy to create Pathways out of Poverty, I wanted the chance to pay it forward in a “hands-on” way. Last week, I did something about it. 

On March 11th and 12th, the members of the Fort Edmonton Kin Club gathered at our club house, with 600 pieces of bread, ham and cheese and set up for our annual Feed the Hungry project. The Kin Club of Fort Edmonton has been an active and vibrant partner in the not-for-profit community in the Alberta Capital Region for more than 40 years and Feed the Hungry is just one of the annual projects we undertake to address food security. An assembly line of 20 volunteers, fueled by compassion, made over 300 lunch bags. Then we packed our cars and headed into the inner city to hand them out to the homeless and hungry.

Working at United Way, my eyes have been opened to the challenges many people face in our amazing city. There is nothing that can bring me to my knees faster than hearing someone say, “Thank you, I haven’t eaten in days”. I was shocked to learn that on average, a person experiencing homelessness walks for hours between agencies for a coffee, a bottle of water, some lunch or dinner or a shower. 

More importantly, I realize being homeless has a profound impact on every aspect of a person’s life. There’s nowhere to keep your belongings safe. If you’re sick, there’s nowhere to store your medication, and if you’re hungry and the agencies are full, you simply don’t eat.

I can’t imagine the frustration, fear and insecurity a person facing homelessness must feel. Now, I realize making 300 lunches won’t fix the bigger issues, but even if for a moment, I can help take away the hunger pangs or listen to someone share their story, I am happy to do it.  If nothing else, it’s rewarding to know we’ve offered someone a little warmth and left our community a little better off than we found it.

Ultimately, we would all like to see an end to poverty, and I believe, working with our community partners, we will. In the meantime, what can we do to help someone in immediate need?  Get out and volunteer with your local service club or community partner; support the local food banks and shelters. For a list of United Way Funded Partners or to learn more about Pathways out of Poverty visit: www.myunitedway.ca  and show your support by signing the statement to end poverty.