Hope in Action

April 2020


How are you coping with COVID-19? We hope you’re able to find comfort and community in these difficult times.

Here at Ray of Hope, we are even more thankful for supporters like Candice-Leigh, an incredible volunteer who has channelled her own experience with homelessness into a passion for helping others. In this issue, you’ll also learn how our ROHCC staff and volunteers are continuing to serve in the midst of the pandemic.

Whether you offer your time, donations or prayers, please know that your contributions to Ray of Hope allow us to care for people who need help now more than ever. Thank you!

Hope Hero: Candice-Leigh Gray

Candice-Leigh Grey (in blue vest) prepares to walk 10 km on the Coldest Night of the Year. Candice-Leigh is also the person who makes sure that all CNOY walkers can enjoy a warm drink and goodies, courtesy of Starbucks.

If you enjoyed a warm drink or pastry at a K-W Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) rest stop this year, you have Candice-Leigh Gray to thank. She’s not only a long-time walker and team captain, but she also organizes snacks and warm drinks for hundreds of people on Walk Day.

Woman wearing sunglasses stands nest to a community cleanup sign attached to a lamppost
Candice-Leigh, who once experienced homelessness, enjoys giving back through Starbucks’ community activities.

Why is she so involved? Because she knows Ray of Hope uses the money raised through the walk to help people in need. And that’s a cause that’s very close to her heart.

A passion for helping

Candice-Leigh experienced homelessness as a young adult living in Toronto. Even though she was working, she couldn’t find an affordable place to live. She couch-surfed with friends and even spent a few nights in College Park. Candice-Leigh remembers what it was like to wash in a grocery store bathroom before heading off to work. She remembers what it was like to feel alone.

“There are so many people who genuinely need help, but they don’t know who to ask,” she says.

Today, Candice-Leigh is a shift supervisor with Starbucks Canada, where she’s worked for the past 12 years. Now based in Waterloo, she’s combined her employer’s commitment to social good with her own passion for helping others.

Eight years ago, a co-worker invited Candice-Leigh to CNOY; since then, she’s walked every year but one. Soon she was encouraging employees at other Starbucks stores to join and coordinating their participation, all with the company’s blessing. And when Starbucks became a CNOY corporate sponsor, Candice-Leigh was asked to manage refreshments for the K-W walk.

“We love what we do”

On Walk Day, Candice-Leigh is up at 6 a.m., collecting products from some of the 17 local Starbucks stores that participate in CNOY, prepping food and setting up equipment at the rest stops. She leads the team of 40 employees who serve coffee, hot chocolate and goodies to crowds of walkers. Somehow, she also manages to squeeze in her own 10 km CNOY walk — with all these activities, she clocked 30,000 steps on Walk Day this year!

And Candice-Leigh is already thinking about next year. She’s developed templates for organizing CNOY rest stop refreshments that she’s sharing with other Starbucks districts.

Candice-Leigh is proud of the support her fellow Starbucks employees give to CNOY both by walking and volunteering.

“Our team is amazing,” she says. “We have lots of partners, shift supervisors and managers who participate. We all love what we do – helping people and connecting with our community.”

Thanks to the support of Candice-Leigh and her team, people who are in the same situation she once was in can come to Ray of Hope to find the help they need.

Serving during COVID-19

Even though the dining room is closed due to COVID-19, the ROHCC is still providing meals “out-the-door” for our guests. Unlike the photo, however, we use compostable containers.

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind for both staff and volunteers at the Ray of Hope Community Centre (ROHCC) as they deal with increasing restrictions due to COVID-19.

‘It feels like we’re adjusting to a new change every day,” says ROHCC Program Director, Jessica Van Es.

In the space of a few days, the ROHCC meal program moved from full-service to serving meals to only 50 guests at a time, and then to 30. Guests sat 6 feet from each other at well-spaced tables, while meals were brought to them.

“Later that week, some people in the population we serve started to show symptoms,” Jess says. “At that point, we knew we couldn’t continue to serve safely the way we had been doing.”

As of March 19th, the ROHCC now serves meals “out-the-door.” Guests can come to the ROHCC’s lobby to pick up a pre-packaged meal during regularly scheduled mealtimes.

cloth face masks on a wooden table
We’re grateful to the wife of one of our volunteers who sewed and donated these masks to help keep staff and volunteers safe.

Keeping people safe

Every effort is being made to keep guests, staff and volunteers safe. Guests are asked to observe social distancing while picking up their meal and staff wear personal protective equipment (PPE). Volunteers have been assigned roles that don’t involve direct contact with guests; they have also been provided with masks and gloves.

Washrooms are open to one guest at a time and are sanitized after each use. There is also a phone available and it too is cleaned after every use. No other programs are available and guests are being directed to House of Friendship for food hampers. (Please note that Ray of Hope isn’t able to accept food donations at this time; instead, we encourage you to donate food to the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.)

How are guests reacting to a situation that’s even harsher than what they already experience?

“For the most part, people have been amazing,” Jess says. “They are incredibly resilient. But there has been some frustration since many of our guests have nowhere to go, now that libraries and other centres are closed.”

“However, we plan to continue to provide meals and to be here for them as much as we can.”

While many of the ROHCC’s services have been shuttered, volunteers are still needed for meal preparation and other tasks. To find out how you can help, please contact Ray of Hope’s Volunteer Coordinator at jwright@rayofhope.net.  If you already volunteer with us, please log into the Volunteer Portal to see where and when help is needed.

Help a neighbour in need

When you give, you make life a little easier for struggling neighbours. Thank you!

During the COVID-19 outbreak, we’re not able to accept donations of food or clothing. But you can still provide meals for hungry people through our secure donation page.