For years the Manna Homeless Society has gone out onto the streets of Parksville, bringing food, clothing, tents and hygiene products to the homeless and most needy.
Now those mobile services include advice and products for their physical and mental health.
This spring, Manna announced the creation of the Manna Care Mobile, staffed by a retired community nurse and volunteers who help homeless visitors look after their own well-being.
“We don’t do medical care ourselves. We give them items to use in their own care,” said Penny Cowan, a retired nurse with public health and home health-care experience who directs the Community Care Mobile program. “We give out personal items, for foot and hand care, Band-Aids, first aid, feminine hygiene products, shampoo, skin cream, etc.”
Cowan and the trained volunteers can also refer visitors to community agencies or clinics as their situations warrant.
“The idea is preventative, helping them take care of themselves,” Cowan said. “We build a rapport with them. And a big part of our role is listening and TLC.”
Since March of 2017, those services have been dispensed from an aging RV that was donated to Manna. That changes this month with the arrival of a newer, slightly larger RV contributed with the sponsorship of Hub City RV in Lantzville, said Robin Campbell, director of the Manna Homeless Society.
“We have three vehicles now,” said Campbell. “We’ve got a big Ford van we give food out of, a cube van for distributing clothing and tents, and now an RV donated to provide community care. People can come into the motor home and find a listening ear, and sometimes to be pointed in the right direction to get the assistance that they need.”
The Manna food and clothing trucks have stopped in downtown Parksville each Saturday for several years to distribute food, clothing, tents and personal hygiene products, all donated by the community, said Campbell. The thought behind the Community Care Mobile was that the personal care items could be expanded and be augmented with advice and referrals by trained staff.
“The more we can help them, the more we see their dignity and sense of self-worth improve,” said Cowan, who has volunteered with Manna for about two and a half years. “We provide an alternative for them.”
The one medicine that is dispensed from the RV is naloxone, the anti-overdose medication. Cowan and her team can give out the naloxone kits to addicted people and also teach them how to administer the doses to friends.
Jerrold Paetkau, the community chaplain who ministers to Manna’s flock four days a week from an office in the Salvation Army, said taking the services into the community gives Manna Society volunteers a different perspective on those they serve.
“Many organizations and agencies view them as clients or recipients,” Paetkau said. “We view them as friends.”