Today I met a remarkable woman. Her bright smile and friendly demeanor made me feel instantly comfortable. Her aura is that of a selfless soul, willing to give every last ounce of her energy to help others. Her reward is simply knowing that every day, she accomplished that.
The woman I met today is Sault Ste. Marie local, Wendy Gutcher, CEO of Sault Ste. Marie Helping Hands.
We met at 112 Crawford, now affectionately known as ‘The Hub’. A busy day had only just begun for her, the door was open for only five minutes, and people were streaming inside.
She beams as she tells me her motto in life, “if I can help just one person a day, just one, think about that…in one year I’ve helped at least 365 people!” She is momentarily distracted by someone asking about pants, and rushes off to to direct them to the racks and racks of clothing, “Sears donated all of these racks, isn’t that great!” she calls to me from across the room.
It all began as a simple Facebook page that Wendy started called ‘Helping Hands’ back in April of 2014. She would post items that were available for free to anyone that needed them. Working out of her own home, she picked up donations, coordinated deliveries, spoke personally with many people about their specific needs, organized it all, and kept things rolling. All by herself.
Gutcher noticed that the house across the street from her, was used by various agencies through Ontario Housing to run programs.
Confident in her mission to make a difference in our community, she pitched her idea to run the city owned house at 112 Crawford Ave. as a hub for helping community members access material items (clothes, household), food, and sometimes just a friendly ear to listen, or a big hug to brighten someone that’s down on their luck.
A brick and mortar extension of her growing Facebook group.
The City of Sault Ste. Marie agreed to support this initiative by waiving the taxes for the first year, and they even donated a washer and a dryer.
Before 112 Crawford was an option, Gutcher did all the washing of clothing donations herself at her own home, at her own expense. She insists items be ready to wear, clean and fresh, so the washer and dryer donation was much appreciated. Sault Ste. Marie Habitat for Humanity also contributed by building a shed on the property, and followers of the Facebook page filled in the rest.
Pictured left is Gutcher’s living room.
Inventory overflow that she is sorting and organizing.
“I would love to get one of the old school buildings, oh the things I could do with that!”
“I’m putting together an entire baby room next!”
It soon became a larger than life operation.
The house on Crawford assists approximately one hundred people a day now, according to statistics taken by Gutcher at the door when guests arrive.
There are stacks of baby, children’s, and adult’s clothing, accessories, footwear, household materials, utensils, and products, entertainment products such as games, books, and toys, and a pantry stocked with food and non-perishable goods.
The Helping Hands Facebook page has almost 9,000 members now, and anyone can post items they are donating as well as inquire and search for items that they are in need of.
Every Monday, Gutcher adds some fun by offering a give-away draw for a product or material that is on display at the door when you walk in. As people enter, she ensures that they fill out a ballot. This week, the give-away is lamps, and she gave me a sneak peek of what she has in store for the Valentines Day draw.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, every Wednesday, Gutcher cooks fresh food for those passing through to have a bite, or take some home with them. Today, the aroma of home made Shepard’s pie wafted though the house.
With seven administrators regulating the Facebook page now, somewhere between fifty and one hundred volunteers, a Board of Directors consisting of Nikki Funk, Crystal Brewer, and herself, Gutcher is fulfilling her dream, “to help as many people as possible in the world.”
Agencies, organizations, and individuals such as the United Way, March of Dimes, Ontario Provincial Police, Sault Ste. Marie Police Services, the Salvation Army, John Howard Society, the Soup Kitchen, Sault Community Career Centre, ER, Consulting, Yes You Can, Ontario Works, Ontario Housing, the City of Sault Ste.Marie, the Red Cross, the Soup Kitchen, Habitat for Humanity, and MPP, Ross Romano, have also been huge supporters of Helping Hands by utilizing their community outreach and resources to spread the word to reach those who can benefit from the provisions made available through this project.
However, the journey does not end here. After this year, SSMHH (Sault Ste. Marie Helping Hands) will be on their own to cover the costs of insurance and property taxes. Gutcher is determined that nobody ever has to pay for the materials that they provide, money is not part of this equation.
They have opted to hold fundraisers, raffles, draws, etc. on the side of their regular services to help offset these upcoming costs. They are calling upon the community of Sault Ste. Marie and surrounding area to take action against poverty and help out where they can, whether it be through providing materials, products, and food for draws, giveaways, donation, or fundraising. Any help is appreciated. Gutcher encourages the community to take responsibility to care for each other.
She explained gift cards from grocery stores would be very helpful right now. In order to continue providing hot meals every Wednesday, she needs to have the grocery items, she’s always game to do the cooking. When food donations don’t roll in, she uses ingredients from her own home.
One way to contribute to SSMHH this week is by attending the fundraiser Pasta Dinner on Saturday, February 3rd, 2018, from 5pm-8pm at the Church of Christ on 132 Cunningham Rd., where all proceeds will go to the goal of raising funds to cover property taxes and insurance. Admission is to be paid at the door, adults are $5.00, and children are only $3.00.
Stay tuned for the grand opening in June, which will also mark the official non-profit status of SSMHH, whereby the organization can apply for grants and other funding that will allow for them to expand their reach and create jobs. This opening will be celebrated with a block party BBQ on June 16th on Crawford Ave. from Smale Ave. to Cunningham Rd. The street will be filled with fun activities, food and music for the whole family to enjoy. She is already thinking ahead about game ideas she wants to try at the block party.
This remarkable woman only looks forward, as she rushes off again to help a woman she knows needs baby items, I bid her good bye, she calls back to me, “You’ll be at the block party right?”
“Of course I will!” I call back to her.
Yes. I will absolutely be there.
To see how you can volunteer, donate, or to keep up with SSMHH, you can join their Facebook page or check them out in person at 112 Crawford Ave., ‘The Hub House’ on Mondays 9am – 2pm, Wednesdays 12 pm – 8 pm and Thursdays 9 am-2 pm.