He peers into the crack of an open motel room door. It’s approaching four o’clock in the afternoon and a man, lying on a sofa in the far corner of a space no larger than a small bedroom, is shirtless, his arm limp and stretched across the side of his face.
“Hello,” calls out John Phipps, a volunteer with The Salvation Army in Niagara Falls, Ont.
The man doesn’t move.
John steps into the motel room, one hand holding a tote filled with brown paper bags. Inside are sandwiches and juice boxes.
The air is foul inside the room. A mix of ripened body odour and the stale, musty stench of a rented space steeped for decades with the sour smells of desperate people.
“When the program started three years ago, Karen delivered eight sandwiches. On this night, they will give away 74″
John calls out again. The man still does not move; likely sleeping off a booze-induced haze.
For now, that’s about all John can do.
For people who call a hotel room home, a dedicated group of Salvation Army volunteers provide encouragement and support.
“Doing what you can”
The man is one of the regulars. And on this Wednesday, John and Karen Johnson, a mobile outreach worker for The Salvation Army, have other motels to visit. Their van is loaded up with egg-salad and tuna sandwiches, made by volunteers earlier in the day at The Salvation Army’s Niagara Orchard Community Church.
Every week, they visit a circuit of motels, knocking on doors and handing out sandwiches to people who call a motel room home. They are people on unemployment or disability. Rent is cheaper than an apartment since utilities, phone and cable are usually included. They don’t need first and last month’s rent, or references. There’s usually no kitchen, so they cook with an electric frying pan, slow cooker or microwave.
Sometimes the need seems overwhelming. “You do what you can,” says Karen.
When the program started three years ago, she delivered eight sandwiches.
On this night, they will give away 74.
“Some of them, it’s all they have to eat all day,” says John.
“Knowing Someone Cares”
Fact is, it’s about more than a sandwich.
It’s about reaching out and connecting. Building a rapport with people who can’t or won’t reach out to regular daytime programs. Connecting people to services that could help improve their lives.
The Wednesday sandwich delivery is part of The Salvation Army’s Niagara Mobile Outreach program. Six nights a week, a truck travels across the region, stopping in parking lots, apartment complexes and other public spots, offering food—everything from sandwiches to hot meals—and an onboard counsellor to anyone who needs help.
Many families rely on the meals.
When the program started three years ago, she delivered eight sandwiches. On this night, they will give away 74.
“People have a hard time reaching out for help,” says Carrie McComb, a community outreach supervisor in St. Catharines, Ont.
Pride and the stigma of living in poverty are barriers, she continues. Program success is measured in lives helped. Maybe a man living under a bridge is put into a shelter. Or someone in a shelter finds affordable accommodation.
“It’s not just about a sandwich,” says Karen. “It’s about their knowing someone cares.”
by Cheryl Clock
Photo 1: courtesy Cheryl Clock/The St. Catherines Standard
Photo 2: courtesy Samantha Petrushak