Langley’s homeless were among recipients of some Valentine’s kindness last weekend

UPDATED: Compassion overflowing in a pop-up store for homeless in Langley

During the long weekend, Stacey Wakelin and a team of volunteers reached out to help locals struggling financially or without a home.

A Willoughby woman who brought us the Oatmeal Project, providing food, winter woolies, and hygiene essentials to Langley City’s homeless in December, expanded her efforts this past weekend.

Stacey Wakelin introduced a two-day compassion pop-up event, where she and a team of some 20 volunteers and more than a dozen donors took over a storefront and provided complimentary refreshments, a selection of gently worn clothing, and haircuts to people in need in the community.

“This project was designed for those experiencing homelessness in Langley,” but was not exclusive, Wakelin said.

“We did it!” she cheered a day after the event – when she had a chance to breathe and reflect.

It was a place so obviously full of love and compassion, she said, so Wakelin called it her Valentine’s Day pop-up shop.

It even included an art station where guests could make Valentine’s cards for loved ones.

Much to her delight, at least 100 guests – more than half homeless and the rest low-income – stopped in to socialize, shop, and share in some of that Valentine cheer.

Initially, Wakelin hoped to set up space where Langley’s homeless could celebrate Christmas together.

She couldn’t make it happen in time, but Wakelin wasn’t giving up.

Thanks to her “magnificent team of volunteers,” she was able to pull it together on the Family Day long weekend – just before Valentine’s – or so she thought.

Two months out, just after her Oatmeal Project, she booked a storefront to use in Langley City.

Panic set in a few weeks ago – when that initial site fell through, and she watched the project falling apart.

“Here I am, two weeks before, and I’m driving around downtown, panicking, looking for space,” calling and emailing everyone who had for lease signs in their windows. She heard back from only one.

Fortunately, she said, that one man – on holidays in Mexico at the time – happily consented.

Armed with what she called “an ideal” downtown Langley location – across from Value Village  (one of the former Legion locations) – work could then begin pulling together donations and plans for the actual event.

“I know things like this have been done before, I’m sure of it,” she said, but she was insistent she wanted something that had no direct ties to any faith-based or social service organizations.

“I just wanted it to be neighbours helping neighbours,” she said. “Many guests were shocked to hear we were simply a group of neighbours coming together to provide a service… This team went above and beyond due to the kindness in their hearts,” she said of the volunteers.

“I have been told by so many, to just let them know when the next event is. That simply amazes and inspires me, there is so much goodness out there and think of what we can achieve as a team.”

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Transformative event

She called this event transformative, not only for the guests who took advantage of the free haircuts, clothing, toiletries, and food.

It was life altering for herself and other volunteers.

It woke her up to many new realities for the people living on Langley streets, or those close to such reality, she said.

“This event was an excellent learning opportunity and a great reminder that at the core of the issue of homelessness are people, just like you and me. It is easy to lose sight of that when bombarded by the media focusing on the issues of poverty, addiction, lack of services, etc.,” Wakelin said.

Over the course of the two days, she talked with dozens of the guests.

“There are so many conversations that meant a lot to me, the human connection that happens between two people,” Wakelin said. “For instance, one guest reminded me that she was not ‘homeless.’ She has a home which is Langley, however, she is houseless.”

She also eavesdropped on many of the conversations between guests. They talked about what areas of town to avoid because of drug use and dealing, where to get hot meals and support, and what programs and services had disappeared.

“There were some really enlightening conversations with some very intelligent people and I learned a lot,” Wakelin told the Langley Advance.

“So much so, that inspiration has struck and I am just trying to outline another possible project idea,” she added.

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What’s next?

“While this event took a lot of planning and energy to pull off, it was achievable. That gives me hope that we will see more events like this in the future,” Wakelin said.

Next up, she hopes to offer an art program on what she describes as a small scale.

Hoping to kick this project off in mid-March, she would work with a few local artists to offer art classes, such as painting. And at the end of the four to five weeks, she would organize an art show where the artists could display their work for the world to see.

“My goal is to share the positive effect the artistic process can have on an individual and hopefully also introduce the larger scale project to those at the art show,” Wakelin said, noting she’s currently hunting for a space to hold the classes for an hour or two per class and local artists who would volunteer their time to the undertaking.

“This may sound idealistic to some, like a ridiculous Band-Aid solution. But, I’ve seen the positive impact the creative arts can have on people who are hurting and need a hand up. I know it won’t solve a homeless individual’s problems, but what if it reminds them they are more than their lack of address, more than their problems even just for a moment and then we build on that?”

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Thanks to all

Besides a little money out of her own pocket, this was all made possible thanks to donations of time, goods and services, or money, Wakelin said, expressing her gratitude to all who helped make the pop-up store possible.

The volunteers included: Amy, Cassidy and Chris Lane; Angie Bunnell; Carly and Jason Dore; Cathy Potosky; Darlene and John Gamble; Deanna Hutchison, Jo-Ann and Len Foss; Mary-Ann Andrew; Mell Andrew; Tricia Rickards; Michelle Carduner; Kim Loof; and Pat Chadwick.

Other contributors included:

• Space was donated by Ron of  R.D.M Enterprises Ltd

• Hair services was provided by Mell Andrew of Hairtastic in Abbotsford

• Special event insurance was provided by S.R.I.M.

• Heather Rodland of Canlan Langley donated toiletries

• Food was provided by Save-on-Foods (Willoughby), Darlene Gamble, Carly and Jason Dore, Jo-Ann Foss, and Pat Chadwick.

• Balloon decorations were provided by Paper and Parties

• Clothing donations were provided by Langley’s Value Village, as well as Clipper Street customers, Veronique Kolisnyk, and Wakelin’s friends and family

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Compassion by the numbers

A Langley mother wanted to do something special for the local homeless on Valentine’s Day, so she set up a Compassion Pop-Up Store:

• One woman’s idea: Stacey Wakelin

• Two months in the planning

• A dozen free haircuts performed

• At least a dozen people made donations to the project

• 15 litres (at least) of coffee were consumed

• Dozens of bowls of soup and chili served

• Dozens of flyers distributed through local social services agencies and by hand ahead of the event

• 20 volunteers helped make it all happen

• 20 boxes of gently used clothing donated

• At least 100 guests throughout the two days

• $300 out of Wakelin’s pocket to make it happen – all the rest thanks to kind donors

• 300 mini cupcakes baked

• More than a thousand square feet of space donated in downtown Langley for the event

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