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Bringing Christmas Cheer to a Maple Ridge shelter

Women create gift bags for residents of Royal Crescent modular housing
Colene Thompson and Lynn Mather have been putting together Christmas gift bags for the residents of Royal Crescent Modular Housing.(Neil Corbett/The News)

A pair of Maple Ridge women are putting together Christmas gift packages for the people who live at Royal Crescent Modular Housing – what street people call The Old Mods.

This latest Christmas cheer is just the bow on a whole parcel of giving that Lynn Mather and Colene Thompson have done for this disadvantaged population in Maple Ridge, dating back to the Anita Place Tent City.

Their project for December is 50 gift bags. They have been collecting donations for the Old Mods residents, and Mather said the community has been generous with its help.

“It’s quite heartening when you have people saying ‘I want to help where I can’,” she said.

Thompson has arrived home to find bags of donated items on her doorstep.

Together, they have collected craft soaps, new mugs with hot chocolate packages, socks, gloves, hats, scarves, toothbrushes, treats and more.

Everybody also gets a personalized Christmas card.

The women have gotten to know some of the residents over the past five years, and can see some have “burned a lot of bridges in their lives.” So, they won’t be getting a lot of Christmas gifts or cards.

The Anita Place homeless camp opened in April of 2017, and for most of its existence Mather and Thompson would bring the residents food.

When it opened, Thompson spoke with a city employee, who told her that the people in the camp were always hungry. That made an impression.

A solution started slowly, with Thompson dropping off a jar of peanut butter and bread. She had no idea what to expect at the camp. Her husband went with her. She remembers he said it was cold, so he said they should also bring some coffee.

That visit soon progressed to Thompson making 80 egg salad sandwiches at a time, becoming part of a small group of locals who would help feed the camp residents.

Eventually they were part of a group cooking dinner every Wednesday. They treated the preparation as if they were cooking dinner for their own guests.

“We wanted to make meals we would serve if we had people over,” said Mather.

They cooked traditional, staple plates – meat, vegetables and a filling starch.

“We got to know some of the younger kids, and harassed them to eat their vegetables,” she added.

Asked why she does it, Mather said “I can’t think of why I wouldn’t do it.”

“People in Canada should not be hungry.”

READ ALSO: 99-year-old Maple Ridge resident donates $20,000 to local programs

Thompson sees it as reaching out to people who can feel isolated.

“They need to know that people care – that they are valued,” said Thompson. “There’s hope out there.”

When The Old Mods opened, they stayed involved with the camp people they had come to know.

They created parcels full of essentials for new people moving in – shampoo, soap, dinnerware, sheets and more. They need everything when they arrive.

Thompson bakes cookies now, on Wednesdays, and brings them to The Old Mods. She and two other bakers are aptly known to residents as “The Cookie Ladies.”

And they did art therapy programs for the residents of the modular housing units, teaching painting and jewelry making, provided adult colouring books and more.

Mather worked as an addictions counsellor, and found people who get clean can struggle to fill their time.

“When you’re off the street, it takes a while to realize that you’re not always on the go anymore,” she said.

Some kind of creative endeavour can help to fill the gap for some people.

They have been giving the Christmas gift parcels for four years. The first year, they made Christmas bags to put everything in.

“One year, I knitted hats all year long,” said Thompson.

Mather said there are more people like them, who donate their time and resources, but don’t look for credit.

“Givers are the quiet ones, but they’re out there.”

Anybody who would like to donate can contact them on Facebook, and Mather said she prefers to communicate on the Albion Neighbours page.

READ ALSO: Christmas Haven returns to Maple Ridge with Dec. 24 celebration

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Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

I have been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past decade with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
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