SURREY — The Lower Mainland was in the midst of its nastiest windstorm in a decade and I’d just seen firsthand what a toppling 40-foot tree can do to a power line. (Hint: Blinding lightshow.)
So, as I tiptoed my way to Kwantlen Park Secondary in North Surrey, I half-expected this most worthy of events to be either:
- cancelled, or
I was mistaken.
Granted, the bouncy castles and tent awnings – and anything that could conceivably take flight – had already been stowed away and all but a few stragglers had moved safely inside. But the moment I saw legendary local disc-spinner DJ Alibaba doing his thing for a cafeteria packed with dancing partygoers, I knew all was good.
Like everyone working the gig on Aug. 29, Alibaba (real name Al Lamons) was there purely on a volunteer basis.
“That’s what we’re here to do…to serve each other,” he explained earnestly as the room bopped to old school hip-hop. “At the end of the day, for me, it’s all about living life with a purpose.”
The purpose on this Saturday afternoon was to put a little back-to-school zing into the lives of those less fortunate.
The plan: Fire off 4,000 invitations to Whalley households and hope that every underprivileged elementary school kid in the region – and their parent(s) – would show up.
It was an ambitious undertaking, but that seems pretty standard stuff for Surrey’s Relate Church. The event was just the latest installment in its ongoing Adopt A School project, and co-ordinator Loretta Hibbs, wearing her “Community We Care” T-shirt, gave me the lowdown.
“I can only imagine how hard it is for these families who struggle to put food on the table for their kids to even begin to think about backpacks, haircuts and clothes. We wanted to help alleviate some of the pressure going into this school year. Over 20 corporate sponsors and 10 churches have helped today.”
Down the hall in the gym, kids were getting those haircuts while their moms were getting manicures. And this was no small-time operation either – we’re talking three or four barbers and perhaps 10 manicurists working at any one time.
One stylist donating his time was Alex Elverum of Cloverdale’s Community Barber. The guy was genuinely enjoying himself.
“I feel totally privileged to give back to the community I grew up in, to give to people in a no strings attached kind of way.”
Elverum figures that seven haircutters coiffed 150 kids in just four hours.
Directly under Elverum’s scissors was Grade 5 student Shania, a little girl with dark hair and a big smile.
“It’s really fun,” she said. “There was a bowling game that me and my sister really liked. We played it and won lots of prizes. I won brushes and a toy for my sister.”
Outside, tucked in tight to the building and safe from the hurricane, was a humongous grille and a gaggle of chefs. At the helm was Maple Leaf Foodservice’s Director of Sales for Western Canada, Kevin Gallant.
“It feels great. Lots of kids here are getting excited about going back to school, and we’re trying to do what we can to make sure they’re properly nourished. We have an obligation to do this.”
Maple Leaf supplied not only the hot dogs for the event but along with other sponsors such as Dempster’s Bread, helped fill all those food hampers being given away.
Back inside, Jenn Hampton of Abbotsford stood with her team amidst enormous piles of care packages. In one corner, 500 food hampers. In another, no less than 1,000 “back to school” backpacks stuffed with goodies such as Frisbees and binders.
Admittedly a bit bummed that the turnout wasn’t quite as great as anticipated (an estimated 900 people showed up – thanks, windstorm), she was nevertheless upbeat.
“One of the great joys is that we’ve been able to talk with people today and share their life stories. Our thing is to love on people in a practical way.”