I saw the face of poverty today and it wasn’t what I expected.
In fact, I was truly shocked how hard it hit me.
It was like a bus. It was something I simply wasn’t prepared for.
Being in the media business for three decades, you think you’ve seen everything.
Today was the day I learned otherwise.
It started with the Salvation Army’s yearly Christmas lunch.
Media were invited to the luncheon in which approximately 200 people attended.
It was an amazing meal put on by the Salvation Army and students in the culinary class of Cobourg Collegiate Institute.
During the luncheon I asked the Salvation Army if the Mobile Outreach Program was still operating.
It’s official title is the Northumberland Community Mobile Outreach Program is run by the Salvation Army Northumberland which officially launched on April 4, 2019.
One day a week, the mobile unit travels to seven locations in Cobourg and on another day does the same in Port Hope offering a hot meal to those in need.
Salvation Army Northumberland Community Outreach and Support Worker Lori Brown said the mobile unit operates year round which is something people like myself may not be aware of.
The mobile unit was operating on Tuesday evening (December 3, 2019) throughout Cobourg stopping in various locations including on Chapel Street near Division, on Cottesmore Avenue near King Street East, Albert Street near Second Street and Alexandria Drive near Burnet Drive to name a few.
My thought was to go to one of the places just to let members of the public know visually that it is a year round program.
It was just after 4:30 p.m. when I pulled behind the mobile unit as it entered Alexandra Drive.
The mobile unit was set up within less than two minutes and in less time than that, people had come out of their homes for food.
It was just something I wasn’t prepared for. Call it stupidity or ignorance, but my thought was, “these people have homes, why are they in need?”
It was poverty, but in a difference sense that I’d ever witnessed.
Parents walked up to the mobile unit holding hands with their children. That was it for me. The combination of how thoughtless I’d been over the years of thinking poverty doesn’t always equal homelessness hit me.
And so did the tears.
I felt embarrassed, ashamed, dumb and very foolish. And frankly still do.
People came from every direction to line up and get food.
Brown told me they had made 60 turkey dinners left over from the lunch and then it was hot dogs and soup. Of course there were other items to go along with it.
One of my many weaknesses is turkey – I love it. As soon as Brown said that, the sledgehammer struck again. I surely didn’t need the turkey at lunch – if I’d only known. Or better yet, I should have known. Slowed down, stopped and thought just for a moment.
Approximately 120 meals were handed out today to people in need. Not just the homeless, but “people in need.”
Brown said, “when people think of homelessness, people think of the individual on the street.”
“But they don’t think of the families at risk living day to day, not sure what pay cheque is going to be coming in or what bill they should pay.”
“Should they pay utilities or should they pay rent to keep a roof over their head for the next month?”
One of the key words Brown said to me is the at risk “families.”
Being a father of two, maybe that was it.
“It’s the kids that suffer,” said Brown.
Standing back far enough to not be in the way, but still able to hear what was being said by the mobile unit, Brown and the other volunteers were absolutely amazing.
Cheerfully talking to people they have come to known each week. Calling out the children’s names asking what they want for Christmas.
“It’s very difficult and you get to know the kids and their families.”
Some of the families are part of The Giving Tree at Northumberland Mall. The community of Northumberland is amazing and hopefully all the children will be smiling on Christmas.
The Salvation Army has always been there for people in need. I’ve witnessed it during a number of emergencies over the years.
But never in quite this way.
It was “hands on” seeing the great work they do. Giving hope, helping people, a simple smile and warm meal.
It was a day my respect for the Salvation Army and the work they do for the less fortunate shot up like a rocket.
“You’re touching these people,” said Brown.
“Whether they have to come in the truck that night and request assistance for a voucher for food, or request to come into the office about helping out with rent assistance.”
“Tonight they know they don’t have to scrimp and save for a meal tonight. We’re there and their kids are getting a hot dog, or pizza or turkey dinner.”
On Tuesday there were approximately 50 turkey dinners given out to people/families in the Alexandria Drive area. Brown said usually it’s around 80 meals on average.
Today was an eye-opening day for myself.
It was an educational day. A humbling day. And, a thankful day. I learned so much about people and the love they have for one another in a world where only hate usually makes the headlines.
I am thankful for people like the Salvation Army and what they do every day for communities like Cobourg, Port Hope, and beyond. I was honoured to experience it firsthand and it has changed my life and my worldview.
We should all learn to be grateful for what we have. We should also take a lesson of the example people like Lori Brown and all of the volunteers of the Salvation Army’s Northumberland Community Mobile Outreach Program.
In this season of giving, gifts are nice, but hope is priceless.