Angels serve soup in Oak Bay

Medewiwin Angels' fundraiser supports Pacifica Housing residents

Medewiwin Angels Valerie Foster (left) and Leslie Farmer serve soup during the philanthropic group’s luncheon held at Oak Bay’s Riffington (Black Press owner David Black’s home) in Uplands

Medewiwin Angels Valerie Foster (left) and Leslie Farmer serve soup during the philanthropic group’s luncheon held at Oak Bay’s Riffington (Black Press owner David Black’s home) in Uplands

An estate in The Uplands of Oak Bay hosted a pretty posh soup kitchen last week to raise awareness and cash for Pacifica Housing.

A group of philanthropic women dubbed Medewiwin Angels host the luncheon every second year, and when their venue fell through this year, Black Press owner David Black came through in a pinch, offering his Riffington estate on Beach Drive.

The group creates a range of soups guests devour (and can take home for a small fee) for $50 per person. All proceeds from the event go toward supporting the tenants living in Medewiwin, on Gorge Road East, 26 units of independent, supported housing units for formerly homeless and homeless at risk residents.

“There aren’t words to describe how grateful we are for the work of the Medewiwin Angels. Their dedication to supporting people who struggle with mental health and addiction is an inspiration to all of us,” said Dean Fortin, executive director of Pacifica Housing.

“It’s so important not just for the fundraising but for the awareness,” said Pacifica president Deborah George, adding the gift is fulfilling for the angels as well as the tenants of Medewiwin. “We’re hoping eventually all our housing will be adopted by angels groups.”

A converted former motel, Medewiwin earned the 2004 Best Practices in Affordable Housing award by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation because of its peer support community model.

“The Angels take our tenants out Christmas shopping. For some it’s the first time anyone’s bought them a gift,” George said. In an emotional twist last year, a tenant took those funds donated for holiday shopping and got a little something for an angel.

“When Donna Thomas and I first became involved with Pacifica Housing and the then fairly new idea for providing supportive housing to those who struggle with mental illness and addictions, we were thrilled to jump on board,” said head angel Shirley Hunter.

“Mental illness in its many forms touches one out of every five Canadians, and although the stigma is slowly fading, it is not changing fast enough. Our 26 residents in Medewiwin still struggle at times but they are warm and safe and they are valued.”

Between the slices of bread alongside ladles of homemade soup and the takeaway containers, the ladies spread the message of their work. Leslie Farmer has been an angel about eight years, since being recruited by Hunter.

“It is one of the most hands-on, rewarding philanthropic endeavours I do,” Farmer said, taking a short break from serving soup.

Cutting a cheque is a grand gesture, but giving of her time and energy means mid-month grocery shopping for an entire complex.

They want to make sure tenants are taken care of, when their cheques run out. They shop and bring it right to Medewiwin, where they interact with the residents who offer hugs and help haul groceries.

“We make sure they’ve got enough to get through the month,” Farmer said. “We make sure they get a birthday present and a goodie bag at Christmas … I’m sure I get more out of it than they do.”

Soup day is an effective fundraiser – they only need to do it every two years – in part because of the awareness. This year’s event raised $12,140.

“It costs us as taxpayers $9,400 a year to keep them there,” said Donna Thomas, adding a shelter bed costs $25,185 a year; jail $52,195 and psychiatric care $242,725.

“Pacifica Housing is a great example of how not to put someone back on the street where the costs are tripled.”

“They are amazing human beings. They kind to each other, they are kind to their neighbours.”

Pacifica provides more than 800 rental units – subsidized, supported and reduced market – in more than 30 sites across the southern Vancouver Island.

The organization provides homes for more than 1,500 people in Greater Victoria, Duncan and Nanaimo. Pacifica Housing also operates the highly successful Greater Victoria Streets to Homes Program. Pacifica also runs youth groups, community gardens and community meal programs for tenants.

“At (Pacifica) It’s not just a bed, but looking at the person,” Thomas said. “Their programs are awesome.”

Learn more about services and programs at pacificahousing.ca online.