Joan Jarvis can’t change the cold, but she brings a warmth to it…

There’s nothing Joan Jarvis can do about the cold. We live in Barrie. It’s cold. But this tiny woman has used her end of work and early retirement years to bring warmth and food, blankets and safety where there was none.

It’s Joan who developed Barrie’s program to feed street people in our community.

Most of us know about the Out of the Cold Program because we read about it in our newsmedia and hear about it on radio and see it on Cable and local television. The program is there. Churches are involved. It’s nice. And lots of times, until we get up close to something it doesn’t really come in to focus for us.

That’s what happened for me this year. My daughter, her friend and myself decided this year that we wanted to give our energy to the Out of the Cold Program. I’m one of those parents who believes that children’s volunteer activities should begin around age 12, that they reap incredible benefits as they learn how to enrich their communities. So, we attended the Out of the Cold training, signed up for a specific team, and got into the swing of setting tables, heating meals, running dishwashers, greeting guests, making coffee, washing trays, and stepping outside of ourselves to work with other people.

The closer I got to this program the more in focus came Joan Jarvis. This tiny woman with a voice that tinkles like little bells, is really the energy that spawned the service that respectfully feeds, visits with, and provides accommodation for dozens of people in the city of Barrie. Joan has gathered around her a virtual army of caring people who lead teams, make proposals to other churches, train volunteers about how to work with and care for and maintain respect for their guests.

When Joan moved to Barrie in 1974, it was to teach nursing students at Barrie’s Royal Victoria Hospital. She soon became involved in her church’s soup kitchen, a Sunday lunch offered to street people following Sunday services at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. This soup kitchen had been operating for some time and Joan’s experience in volunteering with it lead her to understanding the commitment that would be required to launch a bigger program, to provide dinner, socialization and overnight accommodation for people who live in window-wells, in park gazebos, or in substandard rooms without any cooking facilities available to them. When Joan became coordinator for St Andrew’s Soup Kitchen, she began to explore the possibility of replicating Toronto’s very successful Out of the Cold program right here in Barrie.

A need in Barrie? C’mon!

Last winter, Out of the Cold served first, second and third helpings of meals to between 70 and 90 guests and helped at least 15 of them–often more–make up beds and spend the night. This happens five nights a week, including Christmas Eve.

While Joan had a vision of slow, steady growth in an Out of the Cold program in Barrie, she also had a hope that homeless people, or people whose disability payments don’t cover more than rental of their rooms, could get a hot meal and a friendly hand every single night of the week.

First, Joan’s own St Andrews members agreed to open their doors once a week to provide a meal and see how it went. Joan offered to coordinate this. She mobilized people to give workshops to encourage and train volunteers; Joan called RVH to source out the old blankets which were replaced when the hospital moved to its new location. And with the old blankets donated to Our of the Cold, Joan undertook to wash them at her own home after every use. As the program increased in nights and numbers, Joan sought another solution… now a volunteer picks up the blankets after each use, delivers them to RVH’s laujndry and returns them to the host church.

Out of the Cold was born, one night a week, in the winter of 1997/98. On the first night, volunteers had a hot meal ready, tables set with tablecloths, silverware, juice, coffee and tea, dessert and a main course.

Nobody came.

The next week, the volunteers were ready again. Tables set. Dinners ready. Refreshments made. A movie sitting by.

One person came.

On week three there were 10 people. On week four as street people began to trust the process, there were more. And now, in its third winter, many, many more sit down to dinner that has grown from one night to five nights a week.

Joan and church colleague Trudy Patterson, approached Collier St and Central United churches to encourage their involvement with Out of the Cold. In the second year, Out of the Cold opened two nights. Joan and Trudy stepped up their appeals for help and in its third year Out of the Cold was stretched to five nights a week, two at St Andrews, two at Collier and one at Central. The search is still on for a fourth location for seven nights a week from November til April.

This program takes a virtual army of volunteers to operate effectively. Joan has maintained steady contact with media in her search for committed volunteers; she organizes training days, helps organize volunteers into teams. Since many of the volunteers are not related to any of the involved churches, this requires extra coordination of keys, supplies, communications. Mealmakers are coordinated to make and deliver hot meals to host churches. Thankyous are said at the end of each season. Food donations are organized, accepted and stored; freezer space is found, fundraising occurs for mattress purchases…the list goes on and on.

And who are the recipients of Joan’s goodness? They’re people who have fallen down on their luck. They’re young people looking for work. They’re handicapped people who’ve lost out when various health facilities (such as Edgar Occupational Centre) have been closed. They’re people with special needs who are not able to fend for themseloves. They’re people without employability skills.

And while Out of the Cold is now fuelled by the efforts of hundreds of volunteers who serve dinner, who “work” the evening social shift, who do the “all night” shift, or who arrive to serve breakfast, it’s taken the tenacity, the vision and the gentleness of this very kind woman to carry the idea forward.

Thanks, Joan.