‘Caring people working together:’ One woman’s initiative to help the homeless inspires Brockville community

Backpacks distributed by Janice Maes to homeless people in Brockville. – Photo submitted by Janice Maes

One local resident is taking matters into her own hands to ease the hunger and discomfort of unhoused people this holiday season.

On Monday, Nov. 13, Janice Maes shared a post on the public Facebook group “What’s going on in Brockville and area” asking for Brockville locals to give her some guidance on the whereabouts of the local homeless populations. Janice also shared two photos in her post, one of five large black backpacks sitting side by side packed to the brim, and another photo of a kitchen countertop lined with food products and other items. 

“Spent my morning putting together 5 large backpacks to give away to homeless people in the Brockville area,” Maes wrote. “If any one knows where any homeless are living please let me know.

She explained that each backpack has one place setting, all kinds of personal care items, candy, canned goods, laundry supplies, candles/matches, socks, hat, mitts and more.

Brockvilleist had the pleasure of speaking with Maes about this current initiative and her general experience helping those struggling with homelessness. She says she has been interacting and developing lifelong connections with many homeless folks for years now. Whenever she can, she will offer rides, a place to warm up, a $5 Tim Hortons gift card, or whatever else she has on hand in the moment.

Maes says she realizes that the plight of homelessness in Canada is only worsening and becoming more common with the current recession, lack of affordable housing and the rent crisis. She was pleasantly surprised when she saw Walmart was selling large hiking backpacks on clearance for only $20 each, and decided to pick up five on the spot. She explained that if you’re going to give products and canned foods to people living a nomadic lifestyle, it is best to also give them something to carry these items in.

Much to Maes’ surprise, her post on Facebook has garnered a lot of attention, as evidenced through the over 168 comments, 34 shares, and 741 reactions as of Friday, Nov. 17. The comment section varies between tips for donations, suggestions of where to locate homeless communities in Brockville, and positive remarks about her generous spirit along with a few inevitable naysayers implying that homeless people choose that lifestyle or are bused in from other jurisdictions and responsible for starting fires in town.

Due to her post gaining so much attention, Maes was messaged by multiple people wanting to contribute in some way or join her on her outings. On the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 15, two women met up with her in Brockville to help hand out the backpacks. She shared that every person they were able to give a bag or a blanket to was absolutely thrilled. 

Maes explained to Brockvilleist that this was not her first time receiving nasty comments and accusations from people in regards to her work with the homeless. When questioned why she thinks this particular topic makes some people so uncomfortable, she said “it is due to prejudice. Some people think they’re better than that. But everyone has a story. I know that I am only one or two bad decisions or disasters away from homelessness…There’s not much between middle class and homelessness.” 

At the end of her post, Janice appeals to other members of the public, especially those doubting her intentions, to come along and help out. She wrote in her Facebook post “Feel free to join me, bring a bag or two of your own as it seems like my 5 backpacks will only be a drop in the bucket. I already have received [messages] about 15 or more possible locations. I can’t help everyone by myself but with everyone’s help: we could.” 

Maes did not expect any sort of recognition from her post, but since she has gained the attention of many, she wants to take this opportunity to encourage people to think twice before just throwing canned goods or other household items in the trash. She pointed out how we all have an extra bar of soap or bottle of shampoo lying around the house that we’ll likely never use. 

“We all have a lot of things in our homes that we don’t use that would make a big difference to someone else,” Maes said. While decluttering her home, she tries to use her imagination to consider how various items and products she no longer needs could potentially benefit those most in need. 

Maes shared with Brockvilleist that she’s recently received over 10 messages from people asking about donating or informing her that they are making bags as well.

“That right there is why I posted: caring people working together to even help get one person off the streets makes it all worth it. Alone, I can’t help everyone: but together we can. Even if that help is just a meal and a blanket. I’m so happy that there is a possibility that we will be able to help people get back on their feet and off the streets!”

She added that “I like the idea of putting together a group of people to go out and do this once a month or something.” If you are interested in joining Maes in making a difference in your community and establishing a group, she asks that you contact her via Facebook messenger. 

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