Yes, there is a lot of bad stuff going on in our world and lately it seems like even more than usual. But these are the times that I like to lean on a quote by the incredible sage, Mr. Rogers. He said, ‘’When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’’’
Over the next few blog entries, I would like to tell you about some of the helpers who work for City Street Outreach.
City Street Outreach is a local outreach program that is a 100 percent volunteer-run, donation- based and all-inclusive registered charity providing food, clothing and assistance to those in need and/ or living in poverty across the greater Toronto area.
I’m proud to say that in a very small way, I am part of this organization. I’m hardly a saint. In fact, I volunteer for very selfish reasons. It has been good for me emotionally, physically and mentally.
In my last blog, I told you about Alex and Grace, the co-founders of City Street Outreach.
In this entry, I would like to tell you about one of the first volunteers whom I met on the front lines. Her name is Mary. I want to tell you a tale about Mary and the Motel from Hell.
I met Mary on one of the first nights that I volunteered for City Street Outreach a few years ago.
Mary is physically one of the strongest women that I have ever known.
She could pick up 3 cases of water and 2 cases of pet food without blinking an eye.
Meanwhile I was crumbling under one can of cat food.
Mary is incredibly strong in another way. She never asks for help for herself. She always asks for help for others and no matter what you give Mary (big or small), she is always very appreciative. You would never guess the kind of adversity that Mary faces every day because she always greets you with a smile, a laugh and/or a thank you. In spite of her circumstances, Mary is one of the most grateful and positive people that I have ever met.
I remember the first time I took City Street Outreach supplies to the place where Mary lived.
Mary and her family were living in a motel room off of Kingston Road in Scarborough. The place should have been condemned years ago. The owner clearly did not care about her tenants. It was only after a newspaper article shamed the owner and local politicians that the place was finally condemned. Thank goodness Mary and the other tenants were relocated to more humane residences.
Mary, her husband, daughter and mother all lived in one of the cramped motel rooms for years! It was an oven in the summer and an ice box in the winter. A hole the size of a basketball was in the bathroom floor and had never been fixed, despite numerous requests.
On top of this, the entire building was crawling with vermin.
Mary once said that a rat crawled out of another tenant’s toilet and ran out of the guy’s room.
The tenant, a big guy who didn’t scare easily, was understandably freaked out.
Sadly, these were everyday occurrences at that motel.
Vulnerable people like Mary and her family trying to eke out some semblance of a normal life while being surrounded by violence, sexual abuse and drug use that ran rampant throughout the building.
Despite this, Mary made the motel a home for her family.
Her husband, Bobby was amazing with the animals in the complex- from domestic to not-so-domestic. From dogs and cats to abandoned baby raccoons and squirrels, he did his best to help with what little resources he had.
Bobby also tried to make their motel room a home. One Christmas, he strung a small string of Christmas lights outside their motel window, only to hear from the motel owner that it needed to be taken down immediately because it was a fire hazard. One little string of lights.
It’s a small miracle that the entire complex didn’t go up in flames over the years due to the owner’s incredible negligence.
Amidst the chaos, Mary was the beacon of hope for her own family and for many of the other families and individuals in that motel complex.
She became the main contact person there for City Street Outreach. Whenever City Street Outreach delivered food or dry goods, Mary would make it her mission to fairly distribute whatever there was to whomever needed it.
Once a week, I would also swing by with goods from City Street Outreach.
Honestly, before volunteering for City Street Outreach, I passed by that motel so many times over the years.
I’m ashamed to say it, but I probably would have been afraid if my car broke down in front of it.
Now I was driving into the back of the pitch-black complex (because of course, why would outdoor light bulbs be replaced?) and there would be Mary smiling, patiently waiting for me.
I am so grateful to my friends and family with whom I shared stories about Mary and the Motel from Hell. They regularly loaded me up with food and donations to give to Mary and the other tenants. I hope those donations made life temporarily a little easier for the recipients.
One Christmas Eve, my dear friend Val and her husband, Greg, took Christmas dinner over to Mary and her family. I have no doubt that whatever Mary received, she shared and tried to stretch it with those around her.
As I mentioned earlier, Mary and the other tenants were finally able to be relocated to better living residences after the motel owner was fined and the place was condemned.
I regularly see Mary on the City Street Outreach circuit. She continues to volunteer and take care of her own family as well as so many others. She is a local hero.
Sadly, she still puts me to shame when it comes to unloading furniture or a truckload of pet food but Mary works tirelessly to make things just a little easier for those who struggle day to day to make ends meet.
Finally, I should add that a lot of the volunteers like Mary at City Street Outreach are or have been recipients of the food and dry goods that the organization distributes. A lot of these people are only too happy to help others as soon as they gain some traction.
As the saying goes, ‘They don’t need a hand out, they need a hand up.’
Mary is a super star.
She chooses to lead with love, compassion, gratitude and humor.
I think she would make Mr. Rogers proud.
If you would like to catch up on any of my other Laugh Long and Prosper episodes, voted one of the best podcasts of 2021 in Canada by CTV, check me out.
Until next time folks, Laugh Long and Prosper!