By Jim Bell, CEO, Siloam Mission
** This column first appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press **
It’s been almost three months since most of us went into lockdown.
Months of anxiously waiting for the daily announcement of new COVID-19 cases. Months of wall-to-wall news coverage about how the coronavirus has disrupted the lives of almost every person on earth.
Months of aching for life to go back to normal.
If you’re someone who avidly follows the news, like me, it can all be a bit much.
But the truth is beyond all the doom and gloom in the headlines, the coronavirus has also brought out the best in humanity.
If you look for it, good news isn’t hard to find.
Here at Siloam Mission, we’ve had a front row seat to the amazing generosity and kindness of so many Manitobans who jumped in to help.
And they deserve to make headlines, too.
Thomas Rempel-Ong began volunteering at Siloam Mission last fall. He liked to help with making meals and sorting clothes for men and women facing homelessness.
Thomas had inherited money from both his father and grandfather. He likes to joke that he doesn’t part with money easily. He describes his family, including himself, as “hard-working cheapskates.”
But when Thomas inherited the funds, he wondered — what should he do with them?
And then the coronavirus hit. Our province went into lockdown.
And when Thomas realized how hard it would be for the friends he’d made serving meals to stay home and socially distance while living in a homeless shelter, he decided to help.
He made an incredibly generous donation to Siloam in a time of need. And he inspired others to join him.
Then there is Leah Maendel and our friends at the Oak Bluff Hutterite Colony.
Like Thomas, they enjoy volunteering in the kitchen and clothing program. And they’ve been long-time supporters, donating food and money and time.
But when it became clear how contagious the coronavirus is in closed environments like a homeless shelter, they really stepped up to the plate.
Mobilizing other Hutterite colonies, Leah led the charge to sew thousands of masks in a matter of weeks to keep everyone at Siloam Mission safe and protected.
But that’s not all.
When people started staying home, our food donations dropped overnight. That’s when the Oak Bluff Colony — and others — started delivering fresh-baked bread and goods twice a week.
So when we say the Lord’s Prayer and ask God to “give us today our daily bread,” He answered with our Hutterite friends, and others.
Local entrepreneurs offered their help, too.
Ken and Peggy Talbot and Freightliner Manitoba were already dedicated to helping Winnipeg’s most vulnerable move forward in life.
But during this time, the entire Freightliner family rallied together like never before.
When we made the hard decision to limit those who were eating in our drop-in centre to those staying in our shelter, because our drop-in could easily become a giant coronavirus cluster — and serve bagged meals out of our doors for the rest of our community, our food needs shifted. You can’t serve soup in a bag.
But Freightliner was able to direct food, wrappers, cutlery, bags and containers our way.
When colleagues couldn’t make a delivery of food for one reason or another, Freightliner sent it straight to us. And to honour special birthdays, they made donations to Siloam Mission.
Ken, Peggy and the great folks at Freightliner Manitoba kept stepping up.
Then one day, not long ago, we got an email from a former guest of ours.
Ron had left Siloam Mission years ago after recovering from a rough patch. He had done the hard work of piecing his life back together.
And at the height of the pandemic outbreak in Manitoba, he reached out to say thank you. His job is an essential service. He told us he’s proud to go to work every day to support other Manitobans.
And that makes it all worth it.
From caring donors-next-door, to Hutterite colonies and churches, to entrepreneurs, to former guests — the generosity of Manitobans has been astounding.
The helpers really are all around us. So are good news stories. You just have to look for them, and you’ll find them.