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New Salvation Army leader looks to build community capacity, awareness

A line up of 20 families needing groceries. A man needing help to make a court date in Alberta. A family looking to volunteer and make a small difference in their community this holiday season.
Cameron Eggie and his wife Tatjana in the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Fort St. John. “When I was young, I thought (the Salvation Army) was just a thrift store with old ladies folding sweaters,” Cameron says. “I realized they had a social service component when I started doing weekend shelter work at a youth safe house, where I’d see kids 12 to 16 escaping homes, or being exploited.”

A line up of 20 families needing groceries. A man needing help to make a court date in Alberta. A family looking to volunteer and make a small difference in their community this holiday season.

In Cameron Eggie’s line of work, the highs and lows swing wide and fast, and the new leader of the Salvation Army in Fort St. John knows well the task ahead of him. 

After all, he realized the organization was more than a thrift store when he began working at a youth safe house in Chilliwack in 2009, supporting teens escaping their homes or exploitation, shortly after he moved to B.C.

“I never needed help growing up and, for some reason, I just felt convicted as a young adult that I wasn’t giving back,” says Eggie, who, at 22, moved to the province after taking work as a crane operator when an accident shattered his femur and police officer training.

“The ability to create change at a policy level in an organization like this and see how it impacts a mother with her kids walking in the door, that does something a little deeper than just getting a paycheque to do a function.

“Seeing people, getting to know your community has always been important to me.”

In the years since, Eggie has studied social work, chaplaincy, and non-profit management through the Salvation Army’s Booth College in Winnipeg, and spent two years working in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside before moving to Langley to work in residential services.  

Now, as executive director in Fort St. John, Eggie takes over the local branch in a new permanent position as the organization shifts from the in-and-out cycle of captains and majors who have steered it over the last several years. 

He’s joined by his wife Tatjana who, with a background in assisted living administration, will work as a co-ordinator to help oversee human resources, event planning, and the organization’s finances. 

“For myself, it’s all about being here for people, and loving them, and giving the best service we can provide,” Tatjana says.

Together, their immediate focus is to beef up the agency’s volunteer program and engage the community to better understand the challenges facing Fort St. John, especially as the annual Kettle Campaign approaches. 

“There are number of individuals, when I go to the store that I know, they either don’t know of the severity of the issues, or they’re on the other end of the spectrum where they’re not getting the help they need,” Eggie says.

While BC Housing helps fund the agency’s Northern Centre of Hope in town, its food bank and family and community services are completely self supported through community donations and thrift store operations. After all, you can’t be a good non-profit if you aren’t a good business, Eggie says.

“We are in need of more community awareness in terms of volunteering and donor dollars… it helps us support people daily,” Eggie says, noting he hopes stability in the agency’s local leadership allow for a more stable relationship with the community and its partners.

“It’s fair to make our needs known, to say we are having a tough time financially. I think it’s important that everyone knows our needs.”

Eggie most recently served as operations manager for the Salvation Army’s Gateway of Hope in Langley. The needs there are much different than the needs in the north, Eggie says, where isolation and under- or unemployment are prime concerns, and help with clothing, fuel, and prescription is much needed.

“Working in the Lower Mainland, transportation wasn’t an issue because you can get from Vancouver to Langley on one bus with $2.50,” he says as an example.

“Here, it’s going to be a lot challenging if someone has court in Prince George, how do they get there? Who’s going to help them if the ministry doesn’t give them a crisis grant?”

Eggie has already met with the mayor, and has reached out to Rotary to transfer his membership. The plan is to stay, Eggie says, and he encourages the public to come introduce themselves and find out how to get involved or to help.

“My ultimate goal is to get everyones needs met. We have a responsibility to contribute to the community,” he says.

“Volunteers normalize life for people using our services. So, when you’re sitting here getting ready to go into the food bank to get food, when you see some of your neighbours volunteering their time it makes you feel little more human, a little more normal. 

“I think that’s important, because then it’s not just a service handing you a good, it’s your community helping you.”

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