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Glenda Fisher,  Margaret Moroun, Jennifer Wilson, Jacqueline Moroun   

By Rev. Glenda Fisher

It all started with one man, Joe Ouellette, who, on a cold evening in the winter of 2021, began his weekly walks along the streets of Windsor, providing resources to the homeless people he encountered.

At that time, the numbers averaged around 12. Along with money, Joe provided blankets, coats and boots to those who needed them.

Eventually, he progressed to creating ‘healthy snack bags’ for his community of recipients that had quickly expanded to upwards of 40 people. All of this, paid for from his own pocket.

In time, realizing that he was meeting so many people residing on the streets who were experiencing mental health and addiction challenges, and reaching that point of needing assistance with his street ministry, Joe approached Rev. Lance Smith at Church of the Ascension in Windsor and inquired as to whether he knew of someone who might be willing to help with his street outreach. Being cognizant of the fact that ‘women’ on the streets might be fearful of a lone male offering them support, he asked specifically for a female volunteer. That is when Rev. Lance contacted me and after meeting with Joe, I readily agreed to partner with him.

About this same time, Joe had also contacted the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SSVP), specifically, the Windsor Essex Central Council (WECC), again asking about a female volunteer to partner with him for his street ministry. As a result, Margaret Moroun accepted to be part of Joe’s team.

Joe was thrilled to now have ‘on the beat’ with him, ‘two’ women, who also just happened to be seasoned social workers. Joe and I hit the streets on Wednesday evenings and he and Margaret on Sunday mornings.

By the spring, Joe, Margaret and I had become aware that the number of street people was growing exponentially. Given this, Joe reached out again to SSVP - WECC for street outreach volunteers as well as for volunteers to assist with assembling the ‘healthy food snack bags’.

Word travelled fast and before we knew it, Joe, Margaret and I were holding our first ‘street training’ session for a diverse group of new recruits. The SSVP – Good Shepherd Counsel (GSC) agreed to provide leadership for outreach expansion and organization, and arranged for volunteers to assemble the snack bags in Joe’s garage.

By May, 2022, our street ministry volunteer numbers had climbed to beyond what Joe, Margaret and I could ever have asked for or imagined. Besides the involvement of SSVP – WECC and SSVP – GSC, we also welcomed volunteer support from the SSVP – John Vianney Counsel (JVC).

With the growing number of street people with food insecurities, the ‘healthy food snack bag’ assembly line moved from Joe’s garage to a warehouse. The SSVP - WECC provided financial support for food cost reimbursement as well as the other life necessities (footwear, blankets, sleeping bags, winter coats, gloves, hats and scarves.)

That summer, the deployment of snack bags (250 calories) increased to 50 ‘meal’ bags (1200 calories) every Sunday, and 50 snack bags every Wednesday. By early fall this had increased to 60 bags on each of those days.

In November 2022, due to health reasons, Joe had to step back from the day-to-day operations of the program and the SSVP - WECC assumed full organizational responsibility. Jennifer Wilson was appointed as Chair of the 100% volunteer - driven program, overseeing all aspects of its operation. Margaret Moroun became the Training Coordinator.

By the end of 2022, the initial team of three volunteers, Joe, Margaret and myself, blossomed to span a spectrum of volunteers in terms of cultural and religious beliefs and practices, thus allowing for greater intentional service to our street people. The addition of volunteers who are (like me), external to the SSVP, included people of various faith traditions: Anglicans, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Roman Catholics, and some folks with no fixed religious affiliation.

At the time of this writing (February 2024), besides utilizing space in two warehouses, we also have a van, donated to the program, from which our abundance of resources are distributed to people on Windsor’s downtown streets. There are fully mobile rotating teams of three, utilizing 22 trained volunteers, that are reaching out to encampments, bushes and alleyways, seeking the lost and forgotten and offering the basic necessities of life, along with recommendations for resources, and assistance in accessing the same. There are teams of volunteers preparing the snack and food bags for distribution.

Our volunteers at our ‘receiving’ warehouse accept daily donations of food from area farmers and grocery stores, along with clothing, footwear, sleeping bags, and blankets from generous donors. Monetary donations allow us to purchase military grade Myler sleeping bags and emergency sleep systems (bivy bags), toiletries, and so on.

What Joe had always hoped for was to see his Street Ministry grow. We all hoped and prayed for the same. Well, a tiny seed has become an ever-growing oak! Our ‘Street Outreach Program’, under the ongoing organization and care of Jennifer Wilson and her team, is about to go ‘National’, across all Society of Saint Vincent de Paul conferences in Canada. Windsor led presentations are soon to be offered at both the Ontario Regional and Canada-wide annual general meetings.

Rev. Glenda Fisher is Deacon at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, Windsor.