By Jim Bell, CEO
** This column first appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press **
It’s been said Manitoba is the hardest place to get someone to move to — and also the hardest place for someone to leave.
I believe it.
While the prairies aren’t usually known for their majestic landscapes or cosmopolitan urban hubs, our province has much to offer.
Raising a family is affordable here. No matter where you live, you’re never too far from a swim in the lake. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.
But none of those things are what make living here so great.
It’s the people. The sense of community. The can-do, will-do attitude when it comes to helping a neighbour in need.
And that’s not just nice platitudes we say to make ourselves feel good about living in a place with -40 degree weather. The data agrees.
Last year Manitoba had the highest percentage of tax filers that donated to charity among the provinces, according to the Fraser Institute’s annual Generosity Index. Manitobans also donated the highest percentage of their aggregate income to charity.
That makes Manitoba the most generous province in Canada; the kind of place where organizations like Siloam Mission and others can dream big about ending homelessness.
In 1987 that dream would have seemed impossible.
In August of that year, 31 years ago, a tiny soup kitchen on Main Street opened its doors for the first time.
The mission was simple: provide a hot meal twice a week to people who needed it. Homelessness was a growing concern, and the winters were as harsh as ever.
Volunteers from the Canadian Nazarene College showed up faithfully to serve their inner-city neighbours. Local churches started preparing dinners and sending their own volunteer groups.
Over the years, that simple idea took hold and grew. Manitobans from all stripes and backgrounds breathed life into the organization.
Today, Siloam Mission counts on the generosity of more than 8,000 Manitobans who volunteer their time every year. And that number just keeps growing.
Along the way we’ve been able to do a lot more than just serving meals.
From employment readiness to transitional shelter, supportive housing and progressive services that help people move forward, Manitobans have changed thousands of lives through their generosity.
But more importantly, Manitobans have built a community of care and compassion. A community that rallies around our city’s most vulnerable to make sure nobody falls through the cracks.
A few weeks ago we found out we needed to replace the kitchen at The Madison, our supportive housing facility. It was an unforeseen expense of $150,000 – and it wasn’t in the budget.
As of today, I am overjoyed to report that we have raised enough money to replace the kitchen. Once again, generous Manitobans came through for their neighbours — like they always do.
I’m a man of faith, so I will say it the way I know how: every person who has ever donated or volunteered their time here is an angel, sent at the right time for a purpose. We are blessed.
It’s only because of them that today Siloam Mission is no longer a tiny soup kitchen, although our values are still the same as they were in 1987.
And it’s only because of the generosity of Manitobans that we are now dreaming of Manitoba becoming a national leader when it comes to ending homelessness altogether.
The story of Siloam Mission — and so many others in our province — could only be written in Manitoba. Home of the Bombers, the Jets and the Goldeyes, and the most generous people in Canada.