Twenty-nine year old Glenn Field has been homeless for five years and on Tuesday night, the kindness of strangers warmed his toes and his spirit.
Winters in Edmonton are harsh, and Field said it’s especially challenging when the temperatures drop to -30 C.
“It’s tough. I’ve almost been arrested a few times for finding my way into a building to try and keep myself warm,” he said.
Field and his girlfriend picked up warm sweaters, coffees and a meal from volunteers as they waited outside the Hope Mission.
The volunteers are part of a campaign called Delivering Compassion YEG.
They prepared 140 meals, including sandwiches, soup, cookies and coffee to give to the homeless.
“We’re simply trying to ignite the spirit of Christmas in Edmonton,” explained organizer Jeff Tetz, who goes by Santa YEG on Twitter.
He and his volunteer elves are hoping to help more than 2,000 people in need this winter.
“We know people need warm clothing, we know they need food. If we can take both of those, and rather than just dropping it off at a shelter, if we can actually meet somebody that needs it face-to-face and say, ‘We care about you.'”
Tetz is working with Franworks Group of Companies, that owns the restaurants State and Main and Original Joe’s, to accept donations of new or gently used clothes at all their Edmonton locations.
Periodically, they collect the clothes and put a call out on social media for volunteers to help deliver the donations.
“We’re so lucky in our lives, living in Canada,” said Franworks area partner Ally Stone.
“So any way we can give back, we need to do that. It’s super important.”
The response from the public was so overwhelming, Stone said it brought her to tears. Dozens of coats, ski pants, toques, mittens, socks and sweaters were collected.
“I didn’t expect it. I think it’s a real testament to how beautiful people are in this city,” she said.
Volunteers like Marlene Kibermanis sorted through the donations and drove them directly to those in need.
“I live downtown and I see a lot of homeless people. It breaks my heart to see them so cold, sitting outside, no proper clothes, their feet are cold, they’re hungry,” Kibermanis said.
The volunteers were encouraged to take the time to speak to each person they met.
“We think that that feeling matters – that compassion. Restoring dignity and just that basic human exchange. Treating them as equal and not as less fortunate,” Tetz said.
Field said he’s currently trying to build a new sober life with his girlfriend and get off the streets. He’s hoping to reconnect with his family and said gestures like this give him hope.
“It’s warmth. It’s proof that people actually care. It’s hard being down here, and these guys make our lives easier.”