As part of its community outreach, the University of the Philippines Alumni and Associates in Manitoba, (UPAA-MB) Inc., spearheaded by its Social Responsibility Committee, organized a volunteer activity at the Siloam Mission last June 22, 2013. A group of 20 volunteers from the UPAA-MB, their friends and family members participated in the activity.
Siloam Mission is a Christian humanitarian agency dedicated to serving the poor and homeless by providing them opportunities for change. Starting as a small soup kitchen in 1987, Siloam has evolved into a four-storey 24-hour full service provider, employment training hub and 85 units of supportive housing.
The 3-hour volunteer shift began with a brief orientation and tour around the Siloam Mission building to enable the volunteers to better understand Siloam Mission and its services. Belinda, a Siloam Mission staff, divided the volunteers into three groups. One group was tasked to sort donations of clothing and other basic necessities such as toiletries, shoes and sandals, while the other was assigned to assist in meal preparation in the kitchen. The third group was asked to serve the meals and buss tables.
She then ushered them to the multi-purpose Longtin Resource Centre which hosts training sessions, recovery meetings, art programs, computer workshops, and games for its guests. On display in this centre are works of art made by people from different walks of life depicting their life stories, which are full of hopes and dreams.
Right beside the multi-purpose centre is the drop-in area where nutritious meals are served to the guests thrice a day for 365 days a year. At Siloam Mission, hope starts with a meal. By first meeting the basic needs of its guests for food, clothing and emergency shelter, Siloam Mission helps its guests look to the future.
As the orientation tour took place, many guests were already seated at the table waiting to partake of their meal.
Belinda then took the volunteers to Hanna’s Place Emergency Shelter on the second floor. There, 110 beds were neatly arranged in rows to provide a safe and clean place for the night for the homeless. On average, as she noted, eighty percent of the guests were men and twenty percent women. In the morning, twelve of them would help clean up the beds and washrooms to maintain their upkeep.
Finally, the volunteers were led to the pantry and clothing room to see the stockpiles of food, clothing and other donations from individuals, businesses and other institutions.
Fulfilling and insightful experience
Following the building tour at a little past noontime, the three groups of volunteers were then directed to their respective areas of assignment. After the guests had partaken of their meal, the volunteers were served their lunch in the staff dining area, while sharing their own experiences and insights.
Being a first-time volunteer, Nikki, who worked in the kitchen, expressed that she felt uneasy at first but found the whole experience very fulfilling. She said one has to work fast to keep pace with the flow of people just like in a busy fastfood restaurant. One thing she realized though was that poverty and homelessness affect people from all walks of life, regardless of physical attributes and ethnicity.
Lourdes, who served the meal and bussed tables for the guests, was grateful about the experience, being truly blessed in life. That experience gave her every reason to be contented with what she has. Peter, who sorted clothing and other donations, realized that the problem of poverty and homelessness is a global reality that affects both developed and developing countries, where the less fortunate need help in meaningful ways from those who have more in life. He wondered if the Siloam Mission model which provides basic human need of safe shelter, while creating an environment that promotes dignity, self-respect and growth, can be replicated back in his home country. If given the chance to volunteer again in the future, all three volunteers expressed that they are more than willing to do so as it gives them a sense of self-fulfillment. It is also their way of giving back.
Vision and compassion
As Siloam Mission looks to the future, it hopes to transform the landscape of Winnipeg’s inner city by creating 500 homes and 500 jobs in the next five years. Connecting this vision with compassion and generosity of people and organizations will certainly make a difference in the lives of the homeless.
“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give”—Winston Churchill