SARA for Women is in urgent need of donations. The feminist nonprofit is desperate for household items such as shampoo, deodorant, razors, socks, body wash, combs, toothpaste, women’s underwear, gloves and hand warmers.
The organization provides safe refuge for women and children in Mission and Abbotsford experiencing domestic violence. Michelle Puffer is the SARA (Support, Acceptance, Resources, Action) for Women executive director and was the executive director for Mission Community Services for the last three years. She says taking the first step to come to a transition house or shelter can be hard for women.
“It’s very difficult [to come here]. Sometimes, women will talk to us multiple times before they actually make a move,” Puffer said. “Sometimes they’ll make a move and then go back right away. It’s not very often that the first time they show up that they stay and it’s a happily ever after.”
Not all women are able to secure a spot at a SARA facility. The transition houses and shelters are forced to turn away women and children because of capacity limits. Puffer says they try to ensure alternatives with other agencies for the people turned away if possible.
In the last month (October), SARA had to turn away 97 women and 63 children in Mission along with five women and 58 children in Abbotsford. In Mission, that’s 40 more women and 21 more children than September. There was an additional eight turnaways at the Emergency Shelter in Abbotsford in October.
“We hope to always have space available, but we’re generally full all the time. It’s not just a Christmas time or holiday season problem. It is a year round problem.”
For transitional stays up to 18 months in Abbotsford, there is a waitlist of 172 people for bedrooms that can house one to four people. Other services are in high demand as well — PEACE (Prevention, Education, Advocacy, Counselling and Empowerment) for youth has a waitlist of 40 children, ‘Stop the Violence’ counselling has 195 women waitlisted and the caseload for outreach workers has increased — especially with the multicultural outreach program.
Puffer says their allocated government funds don’t cover some basic necessities, especially during the holiday season.
“We have to rely on people to donate either the items or money for us to purchase the items,”she said. “The government funds also don’t pay for toys and gifts for our clients, which is understandable. Except at Christmas, when you have young kids who wake up in a strange place away from home and you have nothing [for them]. It’s not fair to those kids — that’s just another punishment on top of everything else.”
The organization has a Christmas wish list where items are listed to purchase for the women and children staying at a SARA location through the holidays.
“The women and children that are staying with us — especially those that have fled violent situations — generally come with nothing. So whatever we can provide to them is what they’re going to have for Christmas.”
Puffer says there is a great need for more capacity in all of the housing and program areas for which SARA provides service.
“Providing basic necessities to our clients at a time of year when people are asking for special Christmas wishes is the least we can do. If we have the opportunity to give just a little more to provide some joy during a season that is difficult for many, even those of us with shelter and food, then we will do it.”
Donations can be made in-person at the Mission location on 33070 Fifth Ave or online at saraforwomen.ca/make-a-donation/.