Fort St. John’s new Salvation Army captains have their hands full and their hearts open as they busily prepare for the launch of the Cedar Lodge transitional shelter.
The new shelter, which is tentatively set to open in December 2013, will help co-captains Jim and Deb VanderHeyden to offer a greater number of services to at-risk and marginalized citizens then they can offer solely from their 100th Avenue location.
“We are striving to understand what the new shelter will look like and how we can provide additional services,” said Deb VanderHeyden.
Among the additional services that the VanderHeyden’s and their staff are preparing to offer from their current location once the Cedar Lodge location opens is access to an onsite psychiatric nurse, haircuts, foot care and instruction in practical life skills.
The Salvation Army continues to operate a drop-in centre that is open for lunch six days a week to anybody in need of a hot lunch and/or fellowship.
The VanderHeyden’s have been officers in the Salvation Army for the past seven years, including a two-year stint at an officer training program in Winnipeg.
Previous to finding their callings, Jim worked as a boat builder and part time musician and Deb as a thrift store manager.
Their lives changed after Deb attended a conference which highlighted the pandemic spread of HIV-AIDS amongst newborns in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Deb’s heart broke at the sight of so many crying babies.
“There were so many that some of them were never held,” she said.
Deb came home and told her husband: “I know what I want to do [with my life]. Sell the house, go to Africa and hold a dying AIDS baby.”
Fate interceded in the form of Gilbert St-Onge, an Ontario divisional commander of the Salvation Army, who expressed to the VanderHeyden’s that the way they could make the biggest difference in the world would be to attend an officer’s program, which eventually landed the native Ontarians here.
After two years at a Salvation Army officer’s training program in Winnipeg the VanderHeyden’s were chosen to lead the Salvation Army’s operation in Quesnel, B.C.
After a successful five-year probationary stint in Quesnel, the couple took over the Fort St. John outfit this July.
“It’s different [here] from Quesnel. [Up here] there are people coming in who come up already having job offers. So the Salvation Army here is often a hand up to people transitioning to jobs up here,” said Jim.
The VanderHeyden’s say that the lack of affordable housing options and soaring rent prices in the area lead many marginalized people to their doors seeking some form of assistance.
“Especially for single moms or dads trying to put food on the table and pay rent. It can be quite difficult,” said Deb.
One area of their operations where the VanderHeyden’s feel local support could make a huge difference is in their food bank. Providing food for kids is a special concern of the couple. Deb noted that it’s unacceptable that children should have to go to school on an empty stomach both because of the detrimental effects a lack of proper nourishment has on the child’s ability to learn but also because of the stigma a child faces from their classmates at recess and lunchtime when they must go hungry.
“We’re hoping that the donators will recognize the need for food for kids. That the people of Fort St. John can embrace the idea that this is their food bank for their kids,” sad Deb, “Part of staying in school is being well fed.”
Therefore, they ask local donors to consider the needs of children when donating food.
“While we do appreciate any food we’re given we really appreciate anything that we can pack in a child’s lunch,” said Deb.
The local Salvation Army will kicked off their annual Christmas kettle campaign on Saturday. The proceeds of which go directly to feeding families in need.