Since this is Thanksgiving weekend and most of us are preparing to hunker down for a tryptophan-enriched feast with our loved ones, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on the holiday and the season.

Originally started by our agricultural ancestors as a way to celebrate bountiful crops and provision for the winter, Thanksgiving has obviously changed quite a bit over the last hundred years or so. Still, even though most of us no longer live as farmers, we continue to get friends and family together for a celebration just before winter begins.

Probably most of us even continue to take a few moments to think about the good things in our lives for which we are grateful – family, friends, warm homes, good food, a safe country. Simple things we probably often take for granted in the hectic schedules of our lives, but which make us rich in comparison to many around the world.

As the nights get progressively longer, the air crisper and the mornings frostier, there are many in our city who are much less fortunate than the majority.

According to statistics from our city’s 2004 homelessness census, there are more than 400 people in Kelowna who are either living on the street or at a shelter. More than 250,000 people across the country are homeless.

In the same survey, it is reported that the Kelowna Gospel Mission has increased the number of meals served by 88 per cent over the past 10 years – to 100,000 meals served in 2004. Their current website has increased that number even further to 128,000 meals served in 2007.

As I have discussed in several past articles, mental illness and addiction are additional obstacles faced by many of Kelowna’s homeless population.

Imagine how hard it must be to find appropriate housing during an Okanagan winter while also struggling in the grip of a serious addiction or dealing with untreated illness such as bipolar disorder, major depression or schizophrenia. All too often, these barriers keep people on the street for years.

In addition to the absolute homeless, one in five households in Kelowna are living near or below the poverty line – meaning a single catastrophic even such as an accident, illness, family breakdown or job loss could push them to the streets.

Financial hardship is not the only reason people may not feel like celebrating this Thanksgiving. Some people don’t have family or friends to spend time with and the winter months can become long and lonesome. Many seniors may be living alone or in residential care facilities with few or no visits, new immigrants may not have a community here yet and of course the ill or mentally ill may be socially isolated for a variety of reasons.

As you take time to feel thankful for the good things in your own life and begin to prepare for the season of many holidays and celebrations, I urge you to remember those in the community who are not so fortunate.

Consider inviting a lonely co-worker to dinner or think of other ways to reach out. There are many deserving organizations in our city providing needed services for the poor, ill, addicted or lonely. Many are in need of visitors, volunteers, donated money or items such as food, gently used clothing or household goods.

If you’re looking for a place to get involved in any way this winter, contact one of these agencies and learn their needs.

I also encourage everyone to advocate on behalf of the less fortunate by speaking out to all levels of government. Our city, province and country are in need of more affordable and supportive housing as well as services for the disenfranchised. Let’s make a difference and speak up for those in need.


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