Before 5 am most Thursday mornings during the school year, a group of Senior School students head downtown to support Victoria’s homeless community. Alongside SMUS teacher Kevin Cook and reverend Al Tysick with the Victoria Dandelion Society, students in the Me to We Club spend a couple of hours offering compassion, food and drinks to the members of our community who are waking up on the streets.
“I’ve really enjoyed the early mornings and I try to do it as much as possible,” says Grade 11 student Julia McDermott. “The people we meet really are the nicest people and they are so considerate and appreciative that we’re there.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Victoria and SMUS closed early for Spring Break, the weekly Me to We Club visits stopped. As Spring Break came to an end, Julia reached out to some of the other club members to see whether there was a way to continue giving back.
“I was thinking about what would happen during Term 3 if we don’t go back to school. What’s going to happen if we can’t do these morning wake-ups? How can we continue to help them?” Julia says.
With input from Mr. Cook and Rev. Al, the club decided to create goodie bags with cookies and candy, along with positive, hand-written notes.
Once a week, members of the Me to We Club get a delivery of supplies and ingredients to make the goodie bags. With an eye on health and safety, they also get gloves and guidelines to follow to ensure they’re taking the necessary steps to stay food safe. Mr. Cook picks up all of the candy bags and hundreds of homemade cookies the next day and delivers them to the Dandelion Society, which distributes the treats.
“I think it’s important now more than ever because everyone has been greatly affected by this. A lot of the services that this vulnerable population access have closed, so many of them are fully on the streets now,” says Grade 11 student Isabel Cormie, co-head of Me to We. “What we’re doing is something small but we hope that it brightens their day a little bit.”
Mr. Cook, teacher sponsor for the Me to We Club, says he is really proud of the students for taking the initiative to continue their service work.
"I always joke that my job is done when I become redundant. When students start taking the lead, I know it's become intrinsically important to them," he says. "That's what these students are doing. They've been touched by the early morning experiences and it's become so important to them that they stepped up; that's what we're in education for."
Members of the club agree that the weekly visits are important to them, and say they miss the Thursday trips downtown.
“At first I looked at it as a volunteer opportunity but I immediately started to feel connected with the community and wanted to keep signing up,” adds Grade 11 student Meg Sheehan. “We hope to be able to continue the things we’re doing as long as we can. Everyone will be facing the same challenges for the entirety of the pandemic so hopefully we can maintain this so it keeps bringing a bit of joy to people.”
Mr. Cook says feedback from Rev. Al about the candy, cookies and hand-written notes has been overwhelmingly positive: "He tells me that when someone gets a note saying, 'We're thinking of you,' it really makes their day. That's enough to give them some hope and a sense that someone outside of their world cares about them."
Adds Isabel: “What Julia started is great because we’re still able to help them, even though it’s just a fraction of what we used to do. Rev. Al knows these people very well. His main objective is to make sure these people get treated and feel like people because a lot of the time society will cast them out. The important thing isn’t that we’re giving food, it’s that we’re connecting with them as people and giving them a sense of community.”