Commissioned as an Evangelist with Threshold Ministries in 1989, Michelle Simons has been serving in ministry with the Barrie Food Bank since July 2004. As the Manager of Community Relations she is responsible for client care and advocacy, public relations and management of the warehouse. Michelle has a passion for changing people’s lives. She loves to see people find healing in both body and spirit, be more equipped in knowledge and resources, and more hopeful in their circumstances than before they walked through the door.
It is the mission of the Barrie Food Bank to provide temporary food relief to individuals and families of our community who are in need, and to serve as the resource to guide them along the road to self-sufficiency. “Our primary service is the provision to families and individuals to prevent them from going hungry.” They do this through two key programs; the first of which being a morning drop in program held Monday to Friday, designed to allow clients to pick up breads and baked goods to supplement their food assistance order. Additionally, the after noon program, held every Monday, Wednesday and Friday is designed to allow people to acquire food assistance. Knowing that there is a need to provide more than just food for those in need, a key part of our programs delivery is to encourage self-sufficiency, as well as personal and family wellness. A Resource Centre of brochures and literature is available for our clients to use, referring them to other more knowledgeable services and agencies.
“I’ve been here for 13 years and I still describe it as magical.”
Funded entirely through private and corporate donations, the Barrie Food Bank has regular food drives to increase donations, a couple times a year. What’s more, they have noticed that the people of Barrie have a lot of community initiative. “We see it all the time, where groups will be having an event for other purposes, and then they piggy back the food bank cause on top of it, on our behalf… even our Thanksgiving food drive, I’ve been here for 13 years and I still describe it as magical.” Each year, in October, the Barrie Food Bank prints and provides brown paper bags to a local newspaper, who stuff them in their bundles to distribute with their regular mailing. “Literally, the bags go out and the food comes in,” says Simons. “The whole community goes into gear when they see those bags. Sometimes we’re still receiving donations at Christmas, even though the bags go out in October. There are a lot of people out there with big hearts, who are willing to make a difference, if you give them the opportunity to do so.”
“There are a lot of people out there with big hearts, who are willing to make a difference, if you give them the opportunity to do so.”
Picking up client cases on a first come, first serve basis means that an individual staff member at the Barrie Food Bank doesn’t always get to see a person all the way through their connection with the Food Bank, but rather that they work as a team to meet the needs of their clients. Recently, a woman who she had initially met back in 2012 approached Michelle while collecting a food order. “She said to me, ‘You’re the first person I met when I came to the Food Bank.’” Not having had much connection with this woman in the last 4 years, as she is an infrequent visitor, Michelle struggled to remember their first connection. “I was at the lowest point that I could possibly be, but when I met you it took me out of the darkest place,” the woman explained.
Meeting with people at vulnerable points in their lives, Michelle has found that there are a few common themes that often emerge in conversation with clients; “An understanding of self-care, self-kindness and self-value just seem to be so needed in their lives. When you’ve been through Hell, a lot of times your sense of self-value lowers.”
The woman continued to share her story; “I was really struggling, and you saved me from potentially killing myself. You told me I was beautiful, and that I had purpose. That’s exactly what I needed to hear. It was a turning point for me. Whenever I would start to feel hopeless, I would just keep telling myself ‘I am beautiful, I can move forward, I can do this.’”
“You told me I was beautiful, and that I had purpose. That’s exactly what I needed to hear. It was a turning point for me.”
Michelle commented, “I was deeply moved that she would come back and tell me this. It was just so powerful.” Not remembering their initial meeting, Michelle searched through old notes and learned that this woman had also been struggling with intense health problems. Discussing the severe pain in her back and multiple joint issues, Michelle asked the woman, another general question she often uses to determine a persons spiritual openness; “Do you ever pray?” Sensing that she would be receptive, Michelle took it one step further and asked, “Can I pray for you?”
“So I laid my hands on her and prayed for healing, for release from the pain. Physiologically, I knew she was dealing with separate issues, but in the Spirit world, I sensed that they were all connected. So I prayed for her, and she looked at me in shock and said ‘It’s gone. The pain in my back and neck is gone!’”
A moving experience for both women, this encounter had a tangible, positive impact on this woman. The real impact on Michelle, however, didn’t set in until the woman had left and she started writing notes in her file. “All of the sudden, it hit me. About 4 years ago I lost a close friend to suicide. It’s just such a possibility and a sad reality in our world, and you always ask yourself ‘What could I have done or seen differently?’ Even though, often, there really isn’t anything more you could have done. But looking back on this woman’s story, it just hit me that you never really know the impact you have. It’s a privilege to have someone tell you the dramatic impact you did have on his or her life… My goal everyday is to really change someone’s life. And this just goes to show that it is quite possible to do that through one conversation.”
“My goal everyday is to really change someone’s life. And this just goes to show that it is quite possible to do that through one conversation.”
The Barrie Food Bank has a vision to be “a community where no one is hungry,” however for Michelle that means meeting more than just a physical hunger.