CHRISTIAN LIFE IN LONDON | November 2023 EDITION
Lorraine Chwiecko Knows How To Make A Big Impact A Single Item – A Kind Word
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Published November 2021



“There was a couple who came in – they were unsheltered, they were using, and they were in rough shape,” Lorraine, the assistant manager at the Mission Store, remembers. “They came back in the summer and I didn’t recognize the woman – she looked so good. But I recognized the man.”

“And he said to me that in December [we] had given them sleeping bags and pillows, and that was the turning point for them.”

“They are now in stable shelter. They are sober. They are going through the process of getting custody of their daughter back. They are now shoppers at our store and we told them we’re proud of them… to see the lights in their eyes is so good.”

More than just a thrift store, the Mission Store runs two outreach programs for those experiencing poverty and homelessness in London. The Emergency Voucher Program provides clothing, toiletries and household items at no cost to individuals and families. The program is a natural fit to operate at the store because of the access to donations and the storage available in the warehouse.

“We get things that come into the store and are donated to the voucher program directly when folks know about the program,” says Peggy Lock, the program coordinator. “And some things we do have to purchase to make sure we have enough stock for everybody.” “Something as simple as a can opener can be a life saver. And a lot of those items are really driven by cash donations because they’re not something we typically get enough of through donations.”

Men’s footwear is an area of concern for Peggy, especially as the weather gets colder. “We see all kinds of frostbite, trench foot,” she explains. “It’s hard for the guys to keep their feet dry and warm. We can give them small hand towels to dry off but nothing is as good as a pair of winter boots.”

While the store receives plenty of donations of women’s and children’s shoes, Peggy speculates most men wear their shoes until they’re worn – leaving nothing to fill donation bins.

“When we do get donations, I hoard them in the warehouse,” laughs Peggy. “We keep them in the back so we always, hopefully, have something for the guys. But I often do go out and purchase shoes if I have monetary donations.”

“Running shoes, winter boots… it’s important to have the right footwear. It’s hard to literally walk in another man’s shoes.”

Another important service run out of the Mission Store is the Warm Hands – Warm Hearts Outreach Program (WHWH). It was started in 1995 to provide an emergency supply of warm gloves, hats, underwear and socks to elementary school children in both the Thames Valley District School Board and the London District Catholic School Board. The items are stored and packed at the Mission Store warehouse, before being delivered to the school boards’ central distribution warehouses.

“We used to deliver them to each individual school,” says Vikki Buragina, the program coordinator. “But the need just grew so big and we were able to reach so many more children by using the school’s distribution system.”

The WHWH program has grown to support an all-time high of 61 elementary schools in 2019. Even through school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the WHWH program continued to provide cold weather items to over 30 schools in need.

“One of our biggest challenges is finding the items. Stores sell out quickly and it can be hard to track [the gloves and hats] down,” Vikki explains.

Although the WHWH program accepts gently used donations of children’s winter items, there often isn’t enough. Vikki spends her time scouring dollar and bargain stores to be able to secure as many items as she can.

“I’d love to be able to get the kids those waterproof, insulated mitts,” Vikki says. “They hold up a lot better in the winter and keep their hands warm. But the reality is that we only have so much money to spend.”

In order to be able to meet the need of the schools, Vikki often purchases thinner knit gloves – as many as she can find.

“We collect items all year round and store them in the warehouse. We have to get creative to be able to get enough hats, mitts and underwear for the children.”

For those wondering how best to support these two outreach programs, the Mission Services of London annual Hope Banquet & Silent Auction will be held on Thursday, November 25th at 5pm. This year, the event will be entirely virtual, allowing guests the opportunity to enjoy the banquet experience from the comfort of their own homes.



Keynote Speaker Liz Murray, from Homeless to Harvard, will share her inspirational journey from childhood homelessness to winning a scholarship to the Ivy League university. An optional three-course dinner will be available for curbside pickup, and guests will also enjoy virtual networking lounges and a musical performance by Noelle Frances.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit mslhopebanquet.eventbrite.ca. The Silent Auction details are available at missionservices.ca/silentauction. We hope to see you there!