Eight years ago, while she was a student at Okanagan College, Sarah Comba found herself distributing socks, mitts and gloves she had collected to homeless people behind Kelowna’s Gospel Mission.
When a 60-year-old man only wanted to accept one of the two pairs of socks she was offering him “because there might be someone else who might need that other pair,” something twigged in Comba and the notion for a focused campaign was born.
“That was him paying it forward; thinking of someone else’s welfare,” Comba said. “I realized that if each person just gave one small thing, it would mean a lot to people who can use help.”
With support from the College’s Alumni Association and some enthusiastic employees, students and friends, the annual Pay it Forward giving campaign has persisted and hundreds of people have been helped. Two consistent recipients are Kelowna’s Gospel Mission and Inn from the Cold - Kelowna.
This year, the Pay It Forward campaign runs from Nov. 19 – Nov. 30 at the Kelowna campus, with a particular focus on encouraging more people (especially Comba’s fellow alumni, current students and members of the public) to participate.
And while Comba may be the public face of Pay It Forward, it’s clear to those on the receiving end that this is about bringing to mind those faces the public seldom sees.
“It isn’t about the recognition for her,” said Tara Tschritter, the coordinator for Inn from the Cold – Kelowna. “In fact, we get to see her for a few minutes each year. We have a chance to say thank you and we will write a note later, but we really don’t do much else, so you know it isn’t about recognition. It truly is about helping other people.”
Kelowna’s Gospel Mission spokeswoman Ami Catriona agrees, adding it always amazes her how the donations spread a message of support that can’t be expressed in any other way.
“I remember last year when we opened up one of the Pay It Forward bags we found a bunch of infant clothes,” she said. “We don’t get a lot of infants here. We mostly see men. But then I realized we had a single dad at our dental clinic right in that moment who had his baby with him. We quickly packaged up those clothes, and when we presented it to him, he started to cry. That’s how these donations impact people. They’re saying: someone cared.”
That kindness will be appreciated more than ever this year. Demand at the Mission jumped as soon as the temperature dipped, and ever since the Inn from the Cold opened its doors Nov. 1, the organization has been operating at or above its 35-person capacity; something it hasn’t seen before. Usually the demand for the shelter peaks later in the year.
“All the front line services are seeing that demand this year,” Tschritter said.
Comba knows that the donations aren’t just helping the homeless. A significant portion of those who turn to Kelowna’s Gospel Mission are working poor who can’t make meager ends meet, she notes.
Years after graduating from Okanagan College, why does she keep organizing and pushing Pay it Forward, a campaign launched by an idealistic student?
“At heart, I am a strong believer in being a kind person and helping where I am able.”
Those interested in taking part in this year’s Pay It Forward campaign are being asked to contribute softly used or new winter coats, new hats, toques and gloves, new supplies for babies, and new toiletries.
Donations can be dropped off at Okanagan College from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in front of the Athletics and Recreation office inside the Student Services Building, or in the International Education office in the Centre for Learning building.