With temperatures dropping to -21 C overnight last week, homeless shelters were full and one local man made it his mission to ensure no one was left out in the cold.
Trevor Cairns, who owns A1 Bus Ltd., outfitted a 24-passenger shuttle bus for those out in the cold at night to get on board to warm up, whether just for a few minutes or all night. Driving around town between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., those on the streets could hail the free bus down last week and get some rest, coffee, hot chocolate, food and winter supplies. The bus ran for approximately one week, with a final run Sunday, Feb. 14, once it warmed up.
“We had an average of 10-15 people on the bus at any one time, so there was/is definitely a need,” said Cairns, who plans to keep the bus running if another cold snap hits. “The only option where we would not run it is if our local shelter can guarantee that people will not be turned away.”
Volunteering when he could to drive the bus, Ken White was impressed with the idea of the warming bus – unlike anything he has seen in his many year of connecting with the homeless population.
“The shelter is full and several people are trying to survive the cold,” White said, adding that Cairns funds the bus entirely out of his own pocket and even hired a driver when White couldn’t make it.
This isn’t Cairns’ first act of goodwill towards the homeless.
Out of his own pocket, he started serving meals on the weekends to the street population in November 2018, to fill the gap since the Upper Room Mission’s kitchen is not open on the weekends.
That service grew to seven-days-a-week from mid-March to June 2020, during the COVID-19 crisis, with the closure of the Mission. But it was at that time he needed some help and East Hill Community Church came to the rescue.
“During COVID, my business was shut down so I couldn’t afford to fund the meal service. Plus, we were moving to a seven-day service which was considerably more money. So we needed to begin fundraising. So the church took me under their auspices to help me with fundraising and volunteer support.”
The church gave the meal service the name Feed the Streets, and helped Cairns ensure no one would go hungry.
“The COVID-19 shutdown was a particularly hard time to be in need, as most restaurants and cafes were closed. Panhandling, bottle collecting and even dumpster diving were all harder to do. So the traditional ways of obtaining food and means were not there and it was stressful,” Cairns said. “So we went to a seven-day service to try and relieve people’s concerns.”
The Mission is now open Monday through Thursday, and Feed the Streets has returned to its weekend hot dinner service.
In addition to serving hot meals, Feed the Streets offers basic toiletry and personal care items, including socks, deodorant, soap, hand sanitizer, undergarments, toilet paper, oral hygiene items and cold weather items (hats, gloves, hand warmers, and emergency foil blankets).
While faith and God play a large role in why Cairns continues to care so much for his community’s most vulnerable people, he’s also benefited from it.
“I’ve made a lot of friends through it, which in turn has been a wonderful experience to me. It’s really a mutually great thing for both of us!”
Anyone wanting to support the initiative can donate funds via e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org or cheque to East Hill Community Church, 3605 12th St., Vernon, B.C., V1T 3S7, but please specify they are for Feed the Streets.