For some people the weekend is a time for relaxation. Many of us work or study throughout the week and depend on a few short days to catch up and hopefully unwind. But for community members who experience food scarcity or homelessness, there are almost no places operating over the weekend, and that has been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Anywhere that used to be open to the public is now closed leaving people with very few options in terms of places to use the washroom, reliably acquire sustenance, and warm up. We know how harsh Winnipeg winters can be, but the physical and emotional impacts on our community members who are exposed to the elements are truly endangering. That’s why the St. Matthews Maryland weekend drop-in is so essential.
When I was first asked to join the team and work during the weekends, I was grateful for the opportunity to work for an organization that focuses on loving the underloved, I was most excited by increasing service to Saturday and Sunday. During my time as a volunteer, I witnessed how important St. Matthews is to the people we work with. To be able to provide them with food and a safe place to come inside and rest felt like very crucial work. Just because many organizations are closed over the weekend does not mean the lives of everyone they work with also come to a halt, and it does not mean that the extreme cold disappears.
The first couple weeks the weekend drop-in started opening I saw a lot of familiar faces which is always wonderful to see. I met several new volunteers who also share my passion for community outreach and service which was inspiring and helped develop a cohesive and welcoming space. However, a few weeks into the journey I started meeting an increased number of new people from the neighborhood — some had never heard of us before. Each time a new person arrives at the door for lunch or to go downstairs for some warmth and a movie, I am moved to witness this weekend “experiment” is working. If we are able to show more people kindness and respect in their day and help them get the resources that they need while also following COVID-19 protocols, the most important part of the job is complete.
Even though the crowd hasn’t been as large over the weekend compared to the normal weekdays, the mix of returning and new community members creates a different feeling in the air. I found over the weekends that people tend to be in good spirits which can’t always be said on busier days when the windchill is especially sharp and the line is moving slowly. Most days we all come together in understanding and respect to foster an atmosphere with comradery and some laughs — especially with the right movie pick.
We will not be able to provide everyone we meet with all they want or need when they come to us, but we can ensure they know there is a place with reliable food and warmth 6 days a week. The hardest part of the job is having to turn people away when we close and knowing that our friends will have to go out when our doors are shut, but the extended hours offer greater support than before and at a time when our city desperately needs it. As we continue operating throughout the winter our focus will remain providing resources while keeping everyone as safe and healthy as possible. With the help of the entire team, the weekend experiment is sure to continue our mission.
Written by - Grace Gyolai (weekend staff)