By Jessica Patterson
Friday February 08, 2008
|Photo submitted A Cayley teen is among the volunteers at Calgary-based Street Church’s weekly soup kitchen, where Good Samaritans offer hot food and warm generosity to some of the city’s most desperate.
Their trunks loaded with food, their hearts with optimism and benevolence, Cayley teenager Libby Wantenaar and her father head up to Calgary to do what they do every weekend.
They volunteer with Street Church, a multi-denominational, multi-ethnical ministry that sets up in Simmon’s Park to give food and other necessities to the homeless four times a week.
It all began with 15-year-old Libby.
“We’ve always wanted to help the homeless,” she said. “Our friends found out about it and we went up and loved it.”
Libby realized it was a problem in Calgary, and “normal people, they don’t help the homeless every day,” she said. “It’s not a normal thing to do. I want to be one of those people who helps them.”
The routine includes buying food from the stores in High River, travelling up to Calgary with another family from the area, the Hofers, and giving it out to those in Calgary who are hungry.
“And we pray for people there, too,” Libby said.
But it’s the volunteering that has opened up Libby’s eyes to the human condition.
“It really makes you humble and it really makes you think about what you have,” she said.
Libby’s mother, Jenny Wantenaar, says the experience is “amazing,” for both herself and her daughter. She doesn’t volunteer as often, preferring to stay behind with the rest of their children. But Libby’s dad goes up to volunteer.
“It’s given her a lot of fulfillment,” Wantenaar said. “She feels like she’s doing something that really counts. We’re really proud of her.”
The Street Church has been going on for two years, but the Wantenaars just started volunteering in November.
For shy Libby, she’s found the barriers come down as she’s gotten to know some of the people up there.
“They’re interesting,” she said of the people she’s met. “Some of them are sober, a lot of them aren’t. A lot of the people I have spoken to don’t seem hopeless.”
With the cold weather, the Wantenaars find there are increasing numbers of homeless people coming out for the free, hot meals.
“Every Sunday, there’s probably 500 people we feed,” Libby said. On Friday, there are fewer. Sometimes, the food runs out before all of the people get fed.
But, Jenny Wantenaar notices there’s quite a troupe of people going to volunteer now.
“It’s great, because people contribute, and that’s what they need.”
The other family who travels to Calgary each week with the Wantenaars is the Hofer family.
“My whole family is involved in it,” said High River resident Judy Hofer.
She joined because her husband had previous experience doing the same in Vancouver.
“That’s where it started,” she said. “That’s why I’m doing it. I believe Jesus would be there doing it.”
Her family comes out to help, too.
“My little daughter, one time during the summer, she stood there and gave them each a bottle of water, and the next week, she wasn’t doing it, and they missed her,” Hofer said.
The homeless people she sees each week need a message of hope, she said.
The Street Church volunteers pray people if they want, in addition to feeding them.
It’s not just a full belly the Street Church helps out with.
Kind-hearted volunteers like Hofer talk with the homeless, pray with them, and help them out with a winter coat if they need one.
“They often have problems,” Hofer said. “They’re high quite a bit, but there are some that aren’t and are really searching for a way out.”
It’s hard sometimes. Most of the homeless people — it’s their choice to be there, Hofer said.
She tells of one man who came up to her a few weeks ago, 40-year-old Harvey, who struggles with an addiction like it’s a bad toothache. “He was crying like a child,” she said. “He was saying, ‘I can’t quit.’” Hofer sees the volunteer work as a blessing.
“My biggest thing is to try to tell them about Christ, but they need to want the change.”
She makes something different every week, she said. “And the look on people’s faces says it all.”
High River Resident Judy Hofer goes up to Calgary twice a week to help give out food and a healthy helping of prayer to the homeless.