For years around the Christmas season, Sheri Ewart and her son Cole used to hand out gift cards to the homeless in Kelowna as a way to give back to the community.
Cole suffered from mental illness and it was a way for the mother and son to connect, as well as help people out during the Christmas season, handing out Tim Horton’s or Subway cards to people who lived on the streets of Kelowna.
Sadly, just over a year ago, Cole took his own life after years of struggling with mental illness.
To continue the tradition she started with her son, Ewart took her Christmas giving to a new level this year, teaming up with her mother to hold a one-day event for the homeless, handing out Christmas hampers and clothing to those in need.
“This is my therapy, my way of coping and dealing with his death,” said Ewart on Tuesday in the parking lot of Prospera Place, as members of the homeless community stopped by to look for warm clothes or accept a hamper. “I felt like I couldn’t help him enough so If I can help someone else I’m going to do it.”
So with the spirit of her son never far from her mind, Ewart and her mom Bette Peterson embarked on a plan that came to fruition on Wednesday. First they delivered 150 invites to homeless people living in Kelowna, either through the Gospel Mission or other shelters. In turn those folks presented the card on Wednesday and were able to get much-needed clothes and a hamper specifically designed for the homeless with items such as toothpaste, shampoo and even gift-wrapped presents.
“These are things they need and that we all take for granted,” said Ewart. “This is to let them know we care, we’re here and we’re not judging. People need to be more aware. People just don’t wake up one day homeless. It can happen to anyone. People need to stop treating the homeless as outcasts. It’s not hard to give someone a helping hand, a blanket or a coffee.”
As Ewart spoke to one of the many people coming by her makeshift store-front on a chilly afternoon, Pat, who received her invite at the Gospel Mission, flipped through articles of clothing at a nearby table.
“This is wonderful,” she said, noting she was in need of warm sweaters, pants, socks and “all of the above,” adding her family is in Alberta and she won’t see them at Christmas.
“The generosity is so nice,” Pat added. “It makes you feel good. When you are away from family this really helps.”
During the event, which Ewart said she would organize again next year, folks were also able to have a warm hot chocolate and Ewart and her mom were also offering help filling out government forms for people who needed help with any issues the homeless face.
The two women put this event on as their Christmas and will forgo the tradition of purchasing gifts for each other, instead lending a helping hand in the memory of their late family member.
And Ewart said she could feel the spirit of her son with her along the way as she helped the homeless, just as she used to with him.
“This has been amazing, absolutely amazing,” she said. “He’s tickled pink right now. He’s ecstatic. I know he’s telling me to just breathe.”