Photo by Leonie Wise/Unsplash

United Way grant provides grocery gift cards for former inmates

Program is being handled by Abbotsford-based M2/W2 Association

The M2/W2 Association in Abbotsford has provided grocery story gift cards to approximately 50 former prisoners in the Fraser Valley and Greater Vancouver.

Among the recipients are 15 members of M2/W2’s No One Leaves Alone (NOLA) community reintegration program.

The organization previously announced that it had received a $25,000 grant from United Way of the Lower Mainland to supply groceries to former prisoners living in the community.

Since then, some gift cards have been sent through the mail or via parole officers. Others have been delivered in person.

Andrew Brintnell, who coordinates the food security program for M2/W2, said dropping off the cards in person is a chance to get to know the people receiving them.

“That’s been a blessing,” he said. “Some of the men are on their way to recovery. They’re trying to make ends meet. They’ve been set free from shame and condemnation, and are moving away from the identity of being a criminal. It’s wonderful.”

Still, many continue to struggle with the transition from prison to everyday life. Jake, whose name and details have been changed to protect his identity, is originally from outside of B.C. and spent 15 years in prisons across Canada.

Through a referral from his parole officer, Jake connected with M2/W2.

RELATED: United Way grant provides food to 100 former prisoners, families

“He’s been transferred around,” Brintnell said. “He’s dealing with the effects of years spent in correctional institutions. For example, he often feels isolated and finds it difficult to communicate with others.”

The loneliness of being incarcerated can persist after release. When Jake got out of prison, he said he felt like no one cared.

He said that he goes on with his life and it feels like he doesn’t exist. The grocery gift cards brought Brintnell to Jake, and he is grateful for both the food and the company.

“It shows him that people do care,” Brintnell said.

In the coming weeks, M2/W2 will continue to connect with more former prisoners and expand the impacts of the grant.

“At M2/W2, we are in a unique position to help formerly incarcerated people access the food they need,” said Raymond Robyn, M2/W2’s executive director. “This grant empowers us to do just that—and share hope and companionship at the same time.”

M2/W2 runs three programs: an in-prison mentorship program, NOLA and the Hidden Treasures Thrift Store in Abbotsford and Chilliwack.

NOLA connects former prisoners with people in the community, usually three or four volunteers and a case manager, who guide and empower the NOLA member as they transition from institutional life.

RELATED: No One Leaves Alone program matches inmates with volunteers

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