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‘It’s the people – we come for the people’

Women’s Place to benefit from May fundraiser
South Fraser Women’s Services Society will be holding a fundraiser to help support people like Sheila (left). Women’s Place volunteer Ruth Farrants (right) fills Sheila’s bowl with chili.

When Sheila became pregnant while working three jobs to make ends meet, Women’s Place was somewhere she could turn for support.

She went to the South Surrey centre on the advice of a co-worker, and received free trauma counselling once a week.

“I felt supported by the community,” she said. “I had a proper place to talk about my situation.”

Since then, the drop-in centre has become a vital resource in Sheila’s life, which has been burdened by mental illness and a two-year period of homelessness in White Rock.

“I wouldn’t have survived, I don’t think, if I didn’t have Women’s Place.”

The two-storey house, run by South Fraser Women’s Services Society, provides numerous offerings to women, including support groups, a laundry and shower facility and a library.

Sheila has made use of its legal advocacy services, clothing room and hot lunch program, in which women and their children can receive a lunchtime meal four days a week. She also outfitted her Surrey home using the society’s furniture donations.

Such assistance – combined with support she has received from the organization’s partnership with St. Mark’s Anglican Church – has allowed Sheila and her now-teenage son to lead higher quality lives.

“We have a better lifestyle due to the centre, and I’m sure there are other women who feel the exact same way.”

The change is evident in Sheila, who said she was emotionally and physically insecure when she initially visited Women’s Place.

“I felt apprehensive when I first came here. I didn’t know what I was walking into.”

But the environment is welcoming and inclusive due to the friendly, accepting staff and volunteers, who often greet visitors by name, she said.

“I don’t get that kind of interaction anywhere else.”

The women themselves have also proved to be valuable sources of information, Sheila noted. It was through conversations with others that she learned about a transportation tax credit and other government funding she was eligible for.

The centre can also be a place for camaraderie, according to Janet and Sharei.

“It’s the people – we come for the people,” Janet said.

“I couldn’t do without it,” Sharei added.

For 85-year-old Rose, the centre is like a second home.

“All the people, the ladies are nice to me. I like it here very much – without these guys I would be lost. They treat me so good,” she said before sitting down to a hot bowl of chili. “I come home to eat.”

Sheila still visits twice a week, and plans to apply for a position with South Fraser Concierge, the society’s own business that provides home, senior support and errand services.

She has also given public presentations on homelessness and poverty.

SFWSS executive director Denise Darrell said the non-profit organization’s most recent slogan, Voices of Change, was inspired by such resilience.

“When we came up with that tag line, I thought of Sheila.”

Supporting the centre

South Fraser Women’s Services Society will be one of two local non-profit organizations to benefit from the National Garage Sale for Shelter later this month.

Royal LePage Northstar Realty will present the fundraiser May 14 at its South Surrey office, 15272 Croydon Dr., from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., when bargain hunters can search for new treasures.

Surrey and White Rock residents are encouraged to take part by donating gently used items (no bedding or electronics) to the Croydon Drive branch, as well as the 13301 72 Ave. office.

SFWSS executive director Denise Darrell said money the society receives from the fundraiser will help offset the $200,000 in government funding it has lost over the last 14 months.

A lot of the money will go towards the hot-lunch program, as well as the South Fraser Legal Resource Centre, which has been affected by lega-aid funding cuts, she said.