There’s an assembly line set up on the kitchen table of the St. Pierre house in Colwood.
Mom Suzanne, along with daughters Kylie and Amanda, is busily squeezing tubes of coloured icing onto gingerbread cookies of various shapes and sizes. Third daughter, Shayna, pops in with baby niece Nevaya, Amanda’s daughter, to do a quick tasting run.
The home workshop is part of the building process for this family’s special Christmas tradition: going out on Suzanne’s birthday, Dec. 21, and delivering care packages to homeless individuals who are trying to stay warm and dry at this time of year on the streets of Victoria.
“You see somebody sitting in a doorway and it’s obvious they’re camping there for the night,” Suzanne says. “You just walk up and ask them if they’d like a gift bag. We usually end up at Our Place and they get whatever we don’t give out.”
The packages include everything from socks and gloves to toiletries, sandwiches and other edible treats. Many of the non-food items are donated by local merchants, including the Westin Bear Mountain Resort, Holiday Inn Express Colwood, and Sheraton Four Points Victoria. Superstore, Cob’s Bread and Sysco Foods, among others, have provided food products.
The evolution of the birthday charity run started when Kylie, a 2015 Belmont graduate, was at Dunsmuir middle school, Suzanne says. A teacher there would organize a similar project and invite any kids and parents who wanted to volunteer to help out. “We walked around downtown and gave what we could to the homeless and let them tell their story. We did that two or three times a year.”
The birthday project, now in its second year, is “very rewarding” and has become bigger than they expected, she adds. “I just thought, my birthday is so close to Christmas and we’ve just doled out stupid amounts of money (for gifts), so we give out a bunch of things.”
Kylie is so convinced of the value of this project that she asked the family to do a similar run on her birthday in May.
“I’m not going to lie, I probably cry every time we do this,” she says of the giving. “They’re so grateful. It makes you feel so good.”
Amanda, a culinary expert who adds a few personal touches to the food part of the care packages, says providing edibles for people with no way of cooking things is important.
She, like each of the siblings, has friends who’ve latched on to this grassroots program. They gather at the house to help make sandwiches, for example, or head out to the streets to help with the distribution.
“Once when we were out a homeless man asked for a belt,” she recalls. “My friend Cody literally took his belt off and gave it to him. He didn’t want to take it at first, but Cody insisted and said he’s got another at home.”
The sisters agree that going out and connecting with people living hand to mouth on the street is a humbling experience and reminds them how fortunate they are to have a place to live and regular meals.
Suzanne appreciates the opportunity to share the experience with her kids.
“I’ve seen them learn compassion, empathy, caring,” she says. “Kids have to really see you be involved and care about stuff like that, or they won’t get it. You can say one thing to your kids, but if you behave in a different way they follow your lead.”
How you can help:
There’s still time to donate items or sign up to help Suzanne St. Pierre and family’s Dec. 21 care package delivery to homeless folks living on the streets of Victoria.
Among the items in demand for the bags are gloves, socks, toques, sleeping bags and umbrellas. To get in touch and arrange a drop-off time, send her an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-896-5764.
Asked if there other ways to help the homeless, St. Pierre suggested volunteering at organizations such as Our Place or the Victoria Cool-Aid Society.