Winnipeg, MB – Pyjama parties, sleep overs, hanging out with friends, sharing stories, dressing up, watching movies and eating all kinds of snacks. Who of us do not remember great times like these? These were times when the world was our oyster, anything was possible and we lived as large as our imaginations allowed us.
Sadly, many have not experienced these exciting and wonderful times of childhood. There are some in our community who have, instead, experienced fear, uncertainty, insecurity, hunger, violence and even death during their formative years. Instead of fond and happy memories, they have scars and an overwhelming sense of loss that have led them to believe they have no real options for peace and happiness.
The Salvation Army works diligently to restore hope and dignity to these.
This past February, The Salvation Army in Winnipeg, along with its partners, hosted its Fifth Annual S.N.O.W. (Safe Night Off Winnipeg Streets) Night. The night provided those involved in the sex trade a special night free from violence, harm, hunger and exploitation. It helped restore a sense of personal dignity by providing the wonder and innocence of many experiences missed in childhood. It also gave the participants an opportunity to connect with people, programs and services provided by community partners and The Salvation Army in a non-judgemental and supportive environment.
“The average age of entry into prostitution in Canada is 14 years old and likely lower here in Manitoba,” explains Dianna Bussey, Director of The Salvation Army Correctional and Justice Services, “We usually see women at SNOW night who have been out on the streets for a while. They are usually there as a result of poverty, childhood exploitation, addiction and the feeling that they are not able or worthy to do anything else. SNOW is not only about the women having a night of fun, safety, and laughter that is usually not present in their lives, it’s about practically showing them they are cared for, loved, and beautiful for who they are.”
This year over 60 participants enjoyed a night of “World Travel” with stops in such places as Italy (fine Italian food), Paris (make overs), the Caribbean (games and snow cones), and Japan (theatre). During the night, participants also connected with various social agencies such as Sage House, Klinic and The Salvation Army while enjoying games, crafts, movies, hairstyling, manicures, healthy food and a warm, safe place to sleep. While these activities may seem insignificant, for many of these women it is a rare delight to be treated with dignity and respect.
“Volunteers and staff from various agencies, groups and churches were able to have meaningful and genuine conversations, some of which were about the harsh realities of the street, some about faith and trust in God the Creator, and some about current issues and funny moments,” states Bussey, “At the core of these conversations is upholding and reinforcing the worth and value of the women.”
Each participant also received gifts of new pyjamas, slippers, comforter, pillow and a personal care package containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, face cloth and other personal hygiene items. These gifts were available due to the generosity of many of our supporters.
Giant Tiger provided $1250.00 towards the purchase of pillows, comforters and personal care products. “North West and Giant Tiger was more than happy to be a partner in treating the ladies participating in the 5th Annual SNOW event to a special night of pampering,” said David Lui, Director Marketing Services, The North West Company. “Having a fun, safe and special night to enjoy is something every woman should have the opportunity to treat herself to.”
Assiniboine Credit Union (ACU) donated $1000.00 to help offset the cost of the event. Al Morin, President and CEO of ACU stated, “If our contribution to S.N.O.W. Night offers one person the opportunity to believe in themselves and believe that they can live a life free of degradation and personal danger, then we have accomplished much.”
Participants and volunteers also expressed gratitude. Some comments included:
“It is peaceful here even though there are so many wonderful things happening!” – Participant
“It is good to be here! I am doing good…healthy and trying to stay off the street. Thank you, thank you, thank you!” – Participant
“Look at my nails, they look so good!” – Participant
“Thank you for the opportunity to be here with these amazing women!” – Volunteer
“I don’t want to leave!” – Volunteer
The Salvation Army would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Giant Tiger, Assiniboine Credit Union, Marymound, Winnipeg Police, RCMP, Mount Carmel Clinic, Community Venture, Balmoral Hall, Booth Centre, Booth University College, and other agencies and groups as well as the many volunteers and staff of The Salvation Army for all their support, hard work and dedication to help those who participated recognize that they are indeed people worthy of unconditional love and dignity.