A warm gesture by Smithers Public Library has snowballed into a community effort following a call by the library to get individuals experiencing homelessness off the street in the face of an extreme cold warning.
Library director Wendy Wright said when they put the call out on social media and to local service agencies and shelters in the area on Jan. 13 they were hopeful it would have a positive effect but never expected they would see the response they did.
“We actually had quite a few people spend most of [Jan. 13] in here,” she said.
“There were 12 mugs at the end of the day and a lot of those had been refilled and used all day long by people staying out of the cold.”
According to Environment Canada’s data for Smithers between Jan. 13-15 the temperature with wind chill factor reached (respectively by date) -40, -42 and -44 celsius.
Wright said it was important to the library to offer the gesture because of how often community members experiencing homelessness or living in underhoused/precariously-housed situations use the library.
When the temperatures drop, she said all the staff start worrying about how these people will cope.
To that end, Wright said the library wanted to put out the message that if someone doesn’t have a warm place to be during the day they can always drop by to wait out the bitter weather.
“The library is a place where they can be warm, they can be safe and they can actually let their guard down and relax,” she said. “It’s also a place that’s especially important for people who may feel marginalized in our society because the library is a place for everyone. You don’t have to pay to come and sit in the library attend the programs, pick up a book, read, spend time here, use the computers, it’s free to everyone to come here and use the space.”
But as Wright explained, the success didn’t stop at simply getting the message out about the library’s good deed.
Soon after word spread, there were people contacting the library asking if they could donate cash or home baking to the cause.
“So [this week] we’ve actually had all kinds of people bringing in home-baked goodies and donating money, just coming in and saying … here’s some money to help buy food for the homeless people during the cold snap.”
As of Jan. 16 Wright said they had raised a little over $200, which will go into a special fund to help purchase future goodies for similar initiatives. She said that while they weren’t expecting the response they got it was incredible to see the community come together to support such a worthy cause.
“This is great because it wasn’t in our budget but it was something that we really wanted to do and now we actually do have the money from the community … so that’s really moving,” said Wright.
“It’s been absolutely wonderful and we’re all teary here … it’s really nice to know that so many people care about people going through hard times here in this community.”