Christmas is … “the only time I know when men and women open their shut-up hearts freely, and think of people below them, as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys,” Scrooge’s nephew, Fred (abridged).
Ebenezer – are there no prisons, are there no workhouses – needed three London ghosts to help him see others this way.
If just one of those spirits had whisked the old miser to Maple Ridge this December, his transformation would still have been complete.
Shut-up hearts are hard to find in our town, while ubiquitous local acts of kindness bring comfort to us all.
Here’s just a few examples of our munificence. For months, the street ministry of St. George Anglican Church has striven to do more for the needy in Port Haney. This group provides dinners at the CEED Centre every Saturday night.
Last week, guests didn’t have to balance plates on their laps. A church volunteer forked out $257 for the cafeteria trays that streamed past volunteers offering up homemade casseroles, sandwiches, coffee and desert.
On that chilly night, something else new: volunteers wore name tags to make interaction more personal.
I heard, “Thank you, Rick, Candice, Chris, Rebecca, thanks Mary-Grace,” and noted the frequent exchange of genuine smiles.
“It’s easier to talk to someone, or ask for help,” says Teri Mitchell, street ministry coordinator, “if they don’t have to say, excuse me, sir. Knowing your name makes them feel less of a burden.”
This year, this street ministry has been collecting blankets for anybody who needs one. First in line will be folks who live in tents, where it’s harder to keep bedding clean or dry. Because of this, the owner of a furniture restoration business in Port Coquitlam volunteered to do the laundry. Anyone who returns a wet, dirty blanket will get a fresh one in exchange.
Mitchell expects a lot of people will take advantage of this offer, and the gift bags containing basic toiletries, toques, gloves, and large candles intended to dispel tent dampness.
On Christmas Eve, there will be a hot turkey dinner.
Hard times have spiked the numbers with basic needs in M.R.
“When we began,” explains Mitchell, “three people came by for sandwiches and coffee. Now, on an average Saturday, we get 80 -110 who just can’t make ends meet. They’re struggling, isolated, or lonely.”
Last week, Mitchell shared this picture at Cinema Politica’s presentation, How TV Frames the Working Class (many are just one step from homelessness). Before she left, Teri was handed the $95 the group collected at the door. To help out, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Derek Campbell, organizer of the Salvation Army food truck, also sees an increase in the scope of the struggling. His church and three others take turns distributing coffee, soup, deserts and sandwiches from the van parked on Saturday nights near memorial square.
“Regulars come out who are on the verge of homelessness,” says Campbell, who was recruited years ago by Ed Chiu, the previous pastor of The Caring Place.
Campbell gets satisfaction “from seeing people come off the street get cleaned up, get on their feet, and move on with their real lives.”
Sandwiches are donated by Bread and Buns, near 224th Street. Derek says he didn’t ask for the sandwiches. Bakery owners called him and offered to provide them. Deserts come from two local Starbucks.
The Army and Navy Club (22326 North Avenue) offers another extended hand.
Club president Jordy Anderson says proceeds from 50/50 draws have been donated to the St. George street ministry.
The club has collected five big bags of blankets and warm clothing for the cause.
“I expect we’ll get a lot more,” says Anderson.
His group has also run a raffle for meat donated by a local butcher. Money raised will provide turkey dinners to families.
“It’s been going really well,” said Anderson. “Our members care. They know they’re fortunate not to be in that situation.”
“Mankind was my business,” said Ebenezer’s dead partner, Jacob Marley, who took too long to learn the error of his ways.
In contrast, the list of folks in our town who answer humanity’s call seems endless.
Firefighters have been out again this year. Cash they collect is divided between the Friends in Need Food Bank and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Christmas Hamper Society.
Hamper coordinator Lorraine Bates also happily reports the 17th annual Caddyshack strip-a-thon, a vital society contributor, raised $22,600, this year.
But, Christmas hampers still need toys, and electronic gadgets for kids aged 12-18. (mrpmchristmashamper.org).
Donation boxes are located in Valley Fair and Haney Place malls.
“Family registration is up this year,” Bates reminds us. “We have 597 already and expect more.”
Finally, Friends in Need Food Bank (No. 8 – 22726 Dewdney Trunk Road) is asking for cash and food to keep it going into next year.
“I’m hoping lots of people will come out with both for the CP Rail Holiday Train,” says Joanne Olson, food bank manager.
The Holiday Train party starts at 3.p.m. Saturday. The train arrives at 4:15 p.m.
“The Billy Miner is providing free hot dogs and drinks.”
Don’t miss A Christmas Carol on TV, especially the Alastair Sim version.
“God bless us, one and all.”
Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.