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THUNDER BAY -- A decision to close Northwood Park Church of Christ didn’t come easily for the congregation.
But after 49 years and dwindling membership, they were left with little choice.
Good Christians as they were, they sought a silver lining in their sadness, and found it in the sale of the church, built in 1964 on former swamplands at the corner of Edward and Redwood streets.
The parishioners, who have since sought spiritual guidance at other churches in Thunder Bay, decided to use the money from the sale to do good in their community.
On Monday they presented Shelter House officials with a cheque for $200,000.
Another $50,000 was turned over to the Thunder Bay and Area Diaster Relief Fund, money the province will triple through the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program.
“Our numbers were dwindling and we went through a pretty agonizing process and decided that probably the best thing to do was to close up. This meant winding up the business side of it,” said church elder John Whitfield.
“Once that was done, one of the strong feelings in our group, the small group that was left, was that we should use a significant part of this money locally to give assistance to those in need in the community.
"So that’s what we did and it was fairly easy to settle on these two groups to receive the donation because they reflected in their activities what we saw as our objective in meeting the needs of those in the community.”
Patty Hajdu, executive director at Shelter House, said she was completely taken by surprise when she received the news from church member Gord Ellis.
Grateful isn’t a strong enough word to express how she felt, she said. It will be put to good use.
“We’re excited about this money because as many people know we’ve been expanding our services in the community and trying to reach a very marginalized population. And in order to do that we need equity and capital to continue our journey and be part of the solution of homelessness in Thunder Bay,” Hajdu said.
The money won’t be spent immediately. Instead it will be socked away until they have enough money to move forward with those expansion plans, which include growing their 15-bed managed alcohol program.
“We know that the need exceeds those 15 beds. They’re constantly full. So we’re looking at ways we can increase bed space for people with severe and chronic alcohol abuse problems,” Hajdu said.
“And then, if we’re able to do that then we’d also like to look at having a segregated youth facility, that’s more like a rental kind of arrangement, where people would have a room-and-board arrangement, be able to develop some life skills and move on into the housing market.”
About 25 per cent of Shelter House’s average nightly occupants are youth, she added.
“Youth have a very difficult time finding a place in Thunder Bay. The housing market is extremely tight. And on top of that, many landlords are not all that excited about renting to youth. So our youth end up staying here for a very long period of time.
Wayne Fletcher, co-chairman of the Disaster Relief Committee, said the donation brings their total to about $1.3 million, with just 10 days left in the fundraising campaign.
He said he hopes they wind up hitting the $1.5-million mark by Jan. 31, which is less than a third of the $5 million goal they set last June, days after flooding and sewage back-up destroyed the homes of hundreds of Thunder Bay residents.
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