Editor’s note: According to Volunteer Canada, International Volunteer Day takes place every year on Dec. 5 to shine a light on the impact of volunteer efforts everywhere. The Chronicle is proud to tell the story of community volunteers.
After spending a decade transporting the young and the elderly, Angie Papas heard a question that made her realize there was another group of people who could benefit from her expertise.
In March, she was volunteering at the Christian Faith Outreach Centre’s (CFOC) warming shelter in Ajax when a guest asked her: “Do you know how many cabs come here and take these people? Why don’t you offer your services?”
He was referring to the cabs homeless people (also known as unsheltered individuals) need to take to get to doctor’s appointments, counselling sessions, or to refill their medications.
Papas decided to help, and she was in the perfect position to do so. The 55-year-old mother of three is the founder of Kids on Wheels and Seniors on Wheels, a transportation service catering to children and seniors, respectively.
Papas set about repurposing her fleet of company vehicles to transport the unsheltered. The good news is the vehicles were available on short notice. The bad news is they were readily available because the COVID-19 pandemic had shut down all the schools in the region.
Even though her business was forced to hit the brakes in March and her personal finances suffered, Papas was ready to volunteer her company’s services for the several dozen who needed it the most.
This act of altruism wasn’t triggered by the pandemic, it was the inevitable outcome of years of volunteering.
“My church helped me a lot,” Papas says, referring to the CFOC, where she started her volunteering journey.
Papas is especially sympathetic to the struggles of the homeless in Ajax. In December, 2019, when CFOC started a warming shelter as a pilot ‘Out of the Cold’ initiative, she volunteered her time.
“Everyone has a story,” she says, referring to the homeless she’s helped.
“There’s a lot of drugs involved, a lot of mental illness and alcoholism. But you know what? For these individuals to reach the point of drug and alcohol abuse, there’s a story behind it.”
Papas feels there are different ways to respond to these people.
“Some of them are trying to get out of it but they can’t. They need our help,” she says. “Some of them are just so overwhelmed with life that they give up homes and families and they just want to be left alone. But respectfully so, not treated like garbage.”
After several weeks of volunteering her transportation services for the homeless, Papas received a contract in May from Durham Region.
“They have a wonderful system,” Papas says, referring to Durham Region’s efforts to help the unsheltered through different services and collaborations with organizations such as CFOC, First Light Foundation of Hope and Camp Samac.
Rather than find it constraining to juggle her business and volunteering endeavours, Papas is looking forward to doing more for the homeless.
“My compassion for them grew more because I got to know their stories,” she says. She’s currently coordinating with Durham Region and Durham Region Transit to start what she calls the ‘Compassion Bus’.
“It’ll be a mobile shelter that will go to different regions and bring the unsheltered to where they need to come.”
She hopes the bus will be able to provide the homeless from all over Durham Region with sleeping bags, blankets, warm food and the commodity they’re most often deprived of – compassion.
Her volunteering efforts were recently recognized by TD Bank through its #TDThanksYou campaign, which provided her with the money required to cover her monthly mortgage payment.
“She truly represents the resiliency it takes to be a business leader and I am blown away by her commitment to supporting her community,” says Ashneil Seosankar, an account manager at TD Bank who’s been working with Papas for the past two years and nominated her for the campaign.
Papas offered specific advice for anyone who might want to help the homeless.
“Don’t just offer them money or food. If you have some time, listen to them. That’s all they want sometimes. Listening is a very important factor in helping the homeless.”