Sydney parish and international students raise money for homeless shelter
SYDNEY -- Parishioners of a church who know what it's like to be without a home have come up with some big money to tackle homelessness in their community.
St. Marguerite Bourgeoys in Sydney was badly damaged in the 2016 flood and now the church has raised money for a new homeless shelter.
Since moving back to Cape Breton a few years ago, Father Bill Burke has wanted to do something about homelessness in the Sydney area.
"In the winter, I was constantly getting people at the door who were cold because they had nowhere to go," Burke said. "And that's when I became aware of how serious the homeless problem in Sydney was."
Burke and parishioners at St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Catholic Parish know what it's like to be without a home after the 2016 Thanksgiving Day flood left the church partly underwater, causing damage that required months to repair.
"I think it made us stronger," said parishioner Pauline Graham.
Now, the parish has raised nearly $60,000 towards the new homeless shelter in Sydney that opened in December.
It has 28 beds for men and women and the donation from the church is helping the shelter recoup much of the cost of opening.
It's not lost on those who are living here.
"They're very appreciative of the donation that's coming forward," said Fred Deveaux, the Cape Breton Community Housing Association executive director. "They love the new facility. We've heard people say it's a game-changer, it's one of the nicest homeless facilities, I would say, in the country."
Putting the fundraising efforts over the top was a Bollywood-themed night put on by international students, who the parish helped with furnishing and accommodations when they first moved here.
"The way people treat us, the way the parish treats us, the way the parish priest treats us, that's why we just generally want to contribute, and give back something to the people," said Paulose Verghese.
Graham was impressed that the fundraising goal was reached so quickly.
"When we thought initially, '$50,000 in two years?' We're a depressed area, but people came together," Graham said.
They did so, they feel, because of the adversity they faced more than three years ago.
"When you've had nothing, you know what it is for others to have nothing, and you respond more readily when you've been through that experience," Burke said. "And we were pretty well reduced to nothing in that Thanksgiving flood."
It's a prime example of paying it forward.