As he gets ready to leave Maple Ridge, the Salvation Army’s Darrell Pilgrim feels local agencies are slowly catching up with the homeless issues that plague the city.
This will be the executive director’s last summer as the head of the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries.
In September, he will move to Gibsons, and take on the role of community ministries director for the Sunshine Coast. He is already splitting time between the two communities.
Pilgrim has been in Maple Ridge for 11 years, which is half of his career with the Salvation Army. Over that time, the demand for meals, for the homeless shelter and for other services has risen, he said.
“Unfortunately, the people are needing a place to live, and who are hungry, has increased a lot,” he said. However, Pilgrim sees Maple Ridge benefitting from having social service agencies willing to work together.
That’s unique to other cities where he has worked over his 22-year career, which saw stops in Winnipeg, Vancouver and Bellingham.
“It has been wonderful to work with all the community agencies as community partners,” he said. “The cooperation between agencies is unusual compared to other cities.”
For all the people on the streets or living in poverty, there are more willing to help.
“There is a huge number of people who want the best for Maple Ridge, and volunteers and people with huge hearts,” he added.
The Salvation Army has a hard-working staff, and about 200 volunteers, he said. “They are amazing people, who care about people.”
The opioid crisis and resulting homelessness has put a strain on these groups. The response to it has improved, said Pilgrim, but the solutions are bigger than the city.
“We’re on the right steps to it (a solution), but it’s not just a Maple Ridge problem. It’s a North American issue.”
Beyond problems of homelessness, Pilgrim is proud of other services offered here, like the Rotary school lunch program, and the back to school program that helped more than 500 kids last year, giving them a backpack full of school supplies
He said this August will see the third back to school fair, with free haircuts, information from community groups and a barbecue.
“It’s an opportunity for us to show these kids from vulnerable homes how much the community does care about them.”
These programs, helping people, have been his life’s work. Pilgrim grew up in the Sally Ann. Both of his parents worked for the organization in St. John’s, Nfld. and Halifax, N.S. He originally intended to be a musician, and went to the University of Western Ontario in London, getting a degree in music performance.
“I planned on becoming a professional tuba player,” he said.
Instead, he “was called” to follow in his parents’ footsteps. A trained brass player, he will continue quietly helping as many people in need as possible.