THUNDER BAY - A vital service to some of the most vulnerable members of the community is looking to get back on the road after a generous donation from local union members.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 175 and 633 donated a mint condition Mercedes sprinter van to the Thunder Bay Shelter House SOS program.
Shawn Haggerty, president of UFCW Local 175, said the plan to donate the van followed seeing the APTN documentary, First Contact, which featured Thunder Bay Shelter House and the SOS program in an episode.
“It raised a lot of peoples attention to think this is a program that really makes sense for the community,” Haggerty said. “We were looking at trading in our van because we weren’t using it because of COVID and we thought this would be a perfect fit for the program.”
The van is only a couple years old with 9,000 kilometres and is valued at approximately $38,000. Haggerty said it was primarily used for shuttling members to and from the airport and due to COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings it is no longer needed.
“What better way to help a community?” Haggerty said. “Our members are just ecstatic to be able to help out in this way. It’s a great program and it feels really good to help.”
According to Michelle Jordan, executive director of Thunder Bay Shelter House, the van will be used with the SOS program to bring street outreach services back to the community after the program was sidelined in March due to COVID-19.
“As most people know, our SOS program was taken off the road at the beginning of COVID,” she said. “We did repurpose our SOS van to do transport and triage. That means we haven’t been doing our outreach services since that time, so this is a huge donation to allow us to put SOS back on the road.”
The transportation and triage services with the existing SOS van will continue with $520,000 in funding from the federal government until the end of December.
Jordan said they will institute safety protocols developed with that service into the SOS program, as well as recall staff, and hopefully have it back up and running in the next month.
“It’s still going to be strictly street outreach service like it’s always been run. We will see what the needs are right now and if we need to expand it we will look at that,” she said.
“We don’t know the impact of how many people are actually sleeping outside and where people are going. SOS really tracks that and sees where people are brings things that they need and checks up on them and bring them inside to shelters. Right now we don’t know who’s out there and where people are going. So it’s really important we get back out on the road and track that and gauge that.”
The SOS program is still looking for community support and donations but Jordan said having an organization like UFCW Local 175 come forward with a vehicle is a huge boost to the program.
“I was very shocked and surprised and very happy when this was brought to us,” she said.