During the winter, living in poverty is hard. When the temperature drops, the need for relief from the cold increases, and more people seek assistance from Bissell Centre for essential needs like nourishing meals, winter clothing, housing support, and more. Thanks to the generosity of people like you, Mary Joe found hope and tangible help at Bissell Centre.
She moved to Edmonton to be closer to her children and grandchildren only a few years ago. Her first stop, once she arrived, was to Bissell Centre for a shower and clean clothes. Mary Joe had been living on the streets and drinking a lot, trying to survive the bitter cold nights.
“If it wasn’t for Bissell Centre, I’d probably have frozen out there.” -Mary Joe
“A group of us slept in a gazebo together. We had electrical blankets covered with other blankets we’d collected, and then a big orange tarp over the whole thing,” says Mary Joe. “We slept under there, huddled together, just hoping to wake up in the morning.”
One evening, while she was drinking outside, she was violently robbed and left to freeze to death in the extreme cold. Thankfully, a kind young man found her and got her out of a dangerous part of town, saving her life. This was the wake up call she needed to make a change. She quickly returned to Bissell Centre for help to get clean and sober.
Bissell Centre’s staff helped Mary Joe look for an affordable apartment, and start piecing her life back together. “There were some nights when I wasn’t sure if I’d survive. If it wasn’t for Bissell Centre, I’d probably have frozen out there,” says Mary Joe. “But now I’m okay. I have my kids and family back. I have a lot of support. And I have a beautiful home to call my own.”
Mary Joe now has a roof over her head, a job, and she gives back by volunteering at Bissell Centre. “I’m grateful that I’m part of this community. I’m thankful for what happened and where I’m at now,” she says. Because of the support she received, Mary Joe has hope for the future, and has a community of people around her that is akin to family. “I’m thankful for Bissell Centre because there aren’t a lot of places that I feel comfortable hanging out and am accepted for who I am,” says Mary Joe.
Donations from the community help people like Mary Joe find a fresh start in life, feel loved and cared for, and build important connections with others. Please consider providing essential, life-changing services to people in need before year-end and get a 2018 tax credit!
Christmas of 2017 was a tough time for my family. Having welcomed our second daughter in September, we were at the pinnacle of sleep deprivation as our youngest went through her three-month sleep regression. As a breastfeeding mom, I would wake every 2-3 hours to feed her, and this went on for weeks. We were so tried that we were barely getting through the every-day chores, let alone getting ready for Christmas.
With Christmas looming and a two-year-old at home, I bought all my gifts online, but had absolutely no time to wrap them. I contemplated buying paper bags to shove the presents in and calling it a day. Then I heard about the partnership between Bissell Centre and Southgate Centre for their gift-wrapping service. Not only would I not have to wrap my own gifts, but I’d also get to spend some time having a coffee while the baby napped in her car seat. It was a no-brainer for me. I went the next day and thoroughly enjoyed getting to meet the wonderful volunteers from Bissell, who cheerfully took my gifts to wrap, labeled them and returned them to me in under an hour. I got to walk the mall, enjoying a hot coffee for the first time in weeks.
I was looking for help during the holidays, and I found out that I was helping others.
Any mom of young children can attest to just how hard it is to get a moment to themselves. Bringing my gifts for wrapping at Southgate gave me some time to myself at such a critical time in my postpartum journey. Most importantly, I was surprised and delighted to learn about the impact that Bissell Centre has on the community, including supporting struggling families and children through their Childcare program, parenting classes, clothing donations and more. In fact, Bissell Centre supports over 600 families across Edmonton each year. I was looking for help during the holidays, and I found out that I was helping others. What a gift!
It was such a pleasant experience that I will be bringing my gifts every year. Life is still busy with a toddler and preschooler running around and I can’t tell you how much I look forward to bringing my gifts to be wrapped by “Bissell Elves” at Southgate Mall. It has become a welcomed holiday tradition for us.
*Submitted and written by local mom and business owner, Jacquie DuVal.
Between November 23th and December 24th, for a minimum donation of $3, have your Christmas gifts wrapped at Southgate Centre by Bissell Elves. All proceeds go to support Bissell Centre’s Childcare meal program.
Together, we can make a big difference for families and individuals living in poverty this Holiday Season.
Here are 7 ways you can help!
1. Shop Our Holiday Gift Guide
Choose a meaningful gift from our Holiday Gift Guide to benefit individuals and families in need. Shop now!
3. Volunteer with Us—Become a Bissell Elf!
As a “Bissell Elf” you will take part sorting donations, wrapping gifts, serving meals, and spreading good cheer alongside enthusiastic Bissell Elf Captains, who will help lead the way!
2. Have Your Gifts Wrapped in Support of Bissell Centre
Between November 23th and December 24th, for a minimum donation of $3, have your Christmas gifts wrapped at Southgate Centre by Bissell Elves. All proceeds go to support Bissell Centre’s meal program for children.
4. Fundraise on Our Behalf!
This holiday season, when you host a staff event, church gathering, or dinner party, you can also give to people in need. Find everything you need to host a fundraiser for Bissell!
5. Donate Warm Winter Gear
During the cold season, items such as jackets, gloves, mitts, and boots are critical to the health and safety of people experiencing homelessness. You can help by donating new or used winter gear as an individual, or, consider starting a clothing drive initiative! Check out our list of needed items.
6. Stay Tuned this Giving Tuesday!
Stay tuned this #GivingTuesday, November 27, 2018! We have something exciting to share with you.
7. Share and Advocate!
Advocacy in all its forms helps ensure that vulnerable people get the support they need to move from poverty to prosperity. So tell your family, friends, and colleagues about these easy ways to support Bissell Centre this season!
We are thrilled to announce that ENMAX has renewed their partnership with our Community Bridge Program! Community Bridge is a rapid response intervention to stop an imminent eviction and provide interventions and services to ensure that the causes of the eviction are effectively addressed to ward off the re-occurrence.
The vision of the program includes strong partnerships across all sectors that leverage existing services while directing funds to the preventative efforts that stop homelessness before it occurs, and sets the stage for actions people and systems can undertake to improve lives and people’s futures. The vision is of a service that reduces the economic costs of poverty that all of us fund in one way or another.
Millie’s story helps explain the value of the program.
Two years ago, Millie’s rent was raised unexpectedly. She knew she needed help if she wanted to stay off the streets, so she applied for assistance from Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge Program.
Community Bridge was able to help Millie afford her rent while she focused on her health and overcoming her alcohol addiction. Without the program, Millie believes she would have been evicted and left homeless once again.
Today, Millie spends her spare time volunteering with various organizations, extending a helping hand to others who are struggling in similar ways she was.
“Now I have a safe home to go to every night, and for that I’m so grateful. I wake up every day not having to worry about where I’ll find a meal.” – Millie
Thank you ENMAX for your significant contribution and support of our Community Bridge Program. We are so grateful for your support and for the positive impact you’ve made and will continue to make in our program participant’s lives!
When Russell came to us, he had been sleeping under trees, struggling to find work. After spending a decade stuck in a cycle of addiction and poverty, he knew it was time to make a change.
Life had not been easy for Russell. As a child growing up in a family of eight, he recalls getting teased because of his hand-me-downs and for the holes in his clothes. Food was limited, as his dad worked to support six children. As a teen, Russell was incredibly talented at baseball—it was something he could have pursued as a career. But his family just didn’t have the money to support his dream.
As an adult, Russell lived and worked in Fort McMurray with his wife. However, times became difficult when his relationship came to an end. He sold his house and moved to Edmonton where he struggled to find work and a place to live. Unable to cope with the past and deal with his current situation, Russell turned to alcohol to numb his pain. For the next 10 years, homelessness became a way of life for Russell as he struggled with addiction and loneliness. Russell recalls the most difficult part of living on the streets was being so isolated: “There was nobody. Just me.”
There was nobody. Just me.
One day, Russell saw someone in coveralls heading to work and asked them where he could go to find a job. That’s when he first heard about Bissell Centre. He quickly reached out for help. Although overcoming his addiction wasn’t easy, with Bissell Centre’s help, Russell managed to find and maintain steady work as a landscaper. Today, he still works for the same company after nine years of employment.
Our generous donors have directly impacted people like Russell, and for that he is so grateful. “It gives me the opportunity to start growing up like a tree,” he shares. “Look at me, I’m 100% happy!”
Not only did a steady income give Russell the confidence to sustain a livelihood, the housing program helped him to find a home and a family. “I know when I’m coming home, I’m coming home,” shares Russell. He is so grateful to have security and to be leading a dignified life—a life of growth and transformation that he hopes can spread to others who are struggling.
“I can get up and put a cup of coffee on and I go up there in the cupboard to get something to eat,” he says. “I don’t have to stand in line-ups.”
As the season of gratitude approaches, Russell looks forward to sharing his gratitude at Bissell Centre’s Thanksgiving dinner. He reminisces about how wonderful it was to be a part of something when he was feeling alone.
“Everything looked so perfect—from the cloths on the tables to the flowers in the pots,” he says. “It was so well organized and well done.” It is these meals that are often the first steps towards growth and transformation for those who are struggling.
Like Russell, we are so incredibly grateful for your gifts that have supported so many people throughout the years. Thank you for supporting our programs that have done so much for our Edmonton community!
For many, Back to School shopping is exciting. But for those who are living in poverty, the Back to School season can be an extremely stressful time of the year. Affording the yearly cost of school supplies like backpacks and new clothes is extremely challenging, and sometimes impossible, for many families in Edmonton.
Tracey, mom of Stephen (5) and Ciara (2), knows this reality all too well.
After moving to Edmonton from St. Johns Newfoundland 5 years ago, Tracey was stunned with the expense of living costs and still finds herself struggling to make ends meet.
“We don’t have much to spend outside of living costs. My family uses the food bank every month, and we come to Bissell Centre to get clothes.”
Tracey and her family have been utilizing Bissell Centre’s childcare program for 2 and a half years. “We have been coming to Bissell Centre’s childcare since Stephen was 3 and Ciara was 8 months,” she recounts. “I first heard about Bissell Centre from a friend of mine who told me about the childcare here.” Although she doesn’t have any family in Edmonton, Tracey thinks of Bissell Centre as a support system for her and her family.
“At Bissell Centre, you always have people to take care of your kids that you trust. It feels nice to be able to leave them at daycare to go to a doctor’s appointment and not have to worry.”
During the Back to School season, Bissell Centre’s Family Closet equips families like Tracey’s with clothing, backpacks, and other supplies so that their children can start the school year off with confidence.
Last year, when her son Stephen was going into Kindergarten, Tracey relied heavily on the family closet to get him equipped with new clothes, sneakers, winter boots, a book bag, and other supplies for the school year. “New clothing definitely increased Stephen’s confidence,” she said.
The family closet also supplies Tracey’s family with baby clothes and products, hygiene products such as shampoo and conditioner, and seasonal clothes for the entire family such as winter jackets.
“Kids grow out of clothes really fast. Being a parent is expensive. If the family closet didn’t exist, I don’t know what I’d do.”
With access to childcare, clothing, and other supplies from Bissell Centre, Tracey is able to provide her family with a better life.
Until last year, Lorissa and Corey had never taken their family camping. Raising three small children on a single income, they’d never had the time or the money to make the trip.
But last year, after they were referred to the Summer Family Camps by workers in Bissell Centre’s daycare, they decided to give it a try.
They had already been using a few of Bissell Centre’s other services, including the daycare, Family Closet and Employment Services; but it was their first time accessing the four-day family retreat offered at Bissell’s lakeside property at Moonlight Bay Centre.
“It’s a great place for families to bond and come together and love each other… it’s brought us closer together.” – Lorissa and Corey
Lorissa and Corey with their three kids, Nehemiah, Lily and Kori, spent four days and three nights camping in the lakeside cabins. Bissell Centre volunteers took care of all the campers’ needs, including preparing all the meals and planning fun activities for the children.
“It was the first time the kids had ever played badminton,” said Corey, “and they really loved it.” Nehemiah, Lily and Kori also enjoyed swimming in the lake. “They used to be scared to go into the water by themselves,” said Corey, “but now they’re getting braver.”
What Corey and Lorissa were most grateful for was relief from the stresses of everyday life while they were at camp: they enjoyed the peace and relaxation of being together without having to worry about bills or errands or groceries.
“Having to worry about those little things takes all kinds of time away from the time you could be spending together,” said Lorissa. “When you’re at camp, you have that time to just focus on family.”
“It’s worry-free for those four days,” agreed Corey. And according to Lorissa,” “It was so relaxing and peaceful. I loved it!”
Bissell Centre’s Summer Family Camps are made possible by your donations for families who are struggling.
Please provide families with a life-changing camping experience this summer!
Bissell Centre relies on over 1,300 volunteers every year who give 17,000 hours assisting participants and staff in many of our programs.
Whether it’s serving meals in our Drop-in Centre or making our Summer Camps a memorable experience for families, our volunteers are making a difference in the lives of people in our community.
We are celebrating the achievements of our volunteers during National Volunteer Week and we had an opportunity to connect with Maureen, a dedicated volunteer in our Childcare, to share her thoughts about volunteering.
What motivates you to be a volunteer?
“Volunteering is a gift you are given from the universe. As corny as that sounds I truly believe it. I started volunteering at a young age, even before it was popular and the joy I receive every time I volunteered made me want to come back for more.”
What do you like most about volunteering at Bissell Centre?
“I started volunteering with Bissell Centre because they required assistance in the Childcare. At that time I had been involved with two young children and they had moved away. I found I really missed the interaction with children and started looking for a way to fill that gap. Then I saw the ad that really changed my life about volunteers needed for the Childcare. I contacted the volunteer coordinator and applied. As I waited for my clearance to come through I volunteered in the kitchen as well as an Income Tax Preparer. It was in the orientation they said “you can’t change the whole world but you can make one person’s world better.” That is now my goal.”
What’s your favorite experience with volunteering at Bissell Centre?
“My favorite experience, one that brings me joy and happiness every time it happens, is walking into the Childcare preschool room on Friday morning and having at least one and sometimes as many as five or six children come running to give me a hug. What could be better?”
What makes Bissell Centre a special place to volunteer?
“I have been volunteering for a year at Bissell Centre and have come to know some of the staff. They are amazing. Every staff member who I meet gives more than is expected. This isn’t just a job to them, it is a life. They care, they give, they are amazing. The Bissell staff make volunteering a joy”.
What are your favourite hobbies outside of volunteering?
“When I am not volunteering at Bissell Centre I enjoy downhill skiing, gardening, cooking and of course my three weeks in May of learning through the Edmonton Lifelong Learners Association. Retirement has been great!”
Do you want to make a difference for people in our community? Come volunteer with us!
“I always wanted to give my children a better life than I had. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them,” Alannah told us.
When she talks about her kids, the soft-spoken single mother of three sounds like any other parent, but Alannah has been through more hardship than most Edmonton parents can imagine.
It’s difficult enough being a single mom; but it’s harder still when you are also faced with alcohol addiction, poverty and homelessness.
Alannah grew up in the foster care system and struggled with alcoholism as an adult. Before she came to Bissell Centre, Alannah hit what she called rock bottom.
“I lost my place and I lost my kids for five days.”
Having her kids taken away made Alannah realize that she needed to make a change in her life. “I fought really hard to get them back,” she went on. “Got into AADAC to sober up and look into my actions and what it was doing to me and my children. I almost lost everything.”
Alannah’s efforts were repaid when her children were returned to her custody and is now recovering from her addiction, and looking to the future.
During her recovery process, Alannah has been grateful for the support of Bissell Centre’s Child Care program.
When she was referred to Bissell Centre by Native Counselling, she felt hesitant. But after accessing the childcare program for just a couple of weeks, Alannah said she was already noticing a change in her children. “My son uses his manners a lot more,” she said. “My daughter, she’s more independent.”
Besides the positive effects on her children, childcare has also allowed Alannah to make her doctor’s appointments and prepare to move into her new place.
She says she hopes others will feel inspired to give after reading her story, adding, “Everybody needs help sometimes.”
Support from generous donors helps people like Alannah and her children through difficult times and provides opportunities for renewal and rebuilding.
Wendy has fond memories of her childhood on Sugar Lake in British Columbia. She describes fishing and collecting clams with her brothers and sisters and canning salmon with her mother in their old house. She says she can usually rely on those memories to get her through the tough times.
Now, at sixty-four, Wendy says things haven’t been exactly easy since those carefree summer days. In an effort to repress memories of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse in her childhood, Wendy struggled with alcohol and drug addiction for a number of years.
After she got married, Wendy moved to Edmonton, where her husband was transferred for work. It was only a few years later that she and her husband divorced, leaving her alone in an unfamiliar city.
Especially hard for Wendy was the death of her mother, which happened shortly after Wendy moved away from the family home in BC. “She passed away quickly,” said Wendy. “We just had a family get together. Her ashes were spread out by Sugar Lake.”
Despite the hardship, Wendy made things work. Independent and resourceful, she even managed to thrive in her new city, working multiple jobs; at times as a journalist for the paper, at times cleaning carpets or working at the sandwich shop or the bingo hall. She made many friends and got treated by a psychiatrist for the pain she still dealt with. Wendy has always loved riding horses, and she said they helped her heal.
But Wendy’s luck ran out one day when her bad knees forced her to retire from her job at the paper. Her living situation was far from ideal at the time. “The stove was old, falling apart,” she said. “The counters were old and had a wooden board on them; you pull that out and there were flower bugs there.”
The neighbourhood she lived in was unsafe and difficult to access. And, having lost her main source of income, she suddenly faced eviction.
“I was on the verge of being on the street.”
Soon after, Wendy was connected with Kathy from Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge program. Community Bridge offers support to people at risk of becoming homeless by supplementing rent or utilities payments and providing educational workshops.
With Community Bridge’s support, Wendy found a new apartment in a safe neighbourhood. “I love where I am now,” she said. “I can walk down to my bank and to the library. That place is clean, it’s safe… I’m very happy there.”
Besides accessing Community Bridge, Wendy also visits Bissell Centre to take advantage of the Women’s Lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and for occasional community meals. She’s taken Bissell’s Ready-to-Rent workshop and has become “great friends” with Kathy, her case worker.
Wendy can’t help but feel fortunate when she thinks of all the people in her city who don’t have a place to call home. “I don’t think anybody should live like that,” she said.
Wendy still thinks back to those summer days with her family on Sugar Lake. Although it will never quite be the same again, she takes comfort from her past and feels hope for the future. She talks about riding her horses again when her knees improve, and continuing on her journey to health and healing, knowing all the while that she won’t have to do any of it alone.
Bissell Centre’s Community Bridge Program is funded by a collaboration of numerous supporters, including ENMAX who helps to cover the costs of utility bills and rent payments to ensure individuals and families struggling with poverty remain housed.
Please visit our Housing Services webpage to learn more about our Community Bridge Program.