Helping hands remain active through the pandemic

John Schaefer and Katharina Richter are members of the Hotdog Group. [Justine Fraser]

A local band of volunteers from Elmira and the region providing meals to the homeless in downtown Kitchener haven’t let the pandemic stop their good works. Every Tuesday, as the smell of hotdogs drifts down King Street, homeless or displaced members of the community line up to partake of a bite to eat courtesy of the volunteers, who refer to themselves as the Hotdog Group, appropriately enough.

The downtown Kitchener project is now in its seventh year.

Elmira’s Katharina Richter is the volunteer coordinator for the Hotdog Group. She’s there every other Tuesday to help out.

“Many people have some form of accommodation, whether it’s low-income housing or living in a shelter, but there are some people that are living on the streets or living in tents. So, it’s marginalized people that we serve,” said Richter. “We provide hot dogs and hot chocolate or iced tea in the summer. We also give out granola bars and other treats. We provide toiletries so shampoo, conditioner, lotion, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, that kind of thing. What we need coming into the winter months are hats, mitts, and scarves. We hand out masks; we get requests for hand sanitizer as well, but we don’t actually have any to give out.”

Another Elmira volunteer, John Schaefer, is happy to be able to be part of the Hotdog Group, keen on  what they do every week.

“We set up under the protection of the building. We social distance, wear masks, we have orange cones out. We get a lot of regulars that come in, and new faces every once in a while. You get in line, there’s hygiene products, socks and then they move on to the hot chocolate and hotdogs, then there’s a separate table for clothes. It’s a great group of volunteers, everyone helps out, we ask them what they need so we can get it for them. It’s really well run,” said Schaefer.

Schaefer noted many people are starting to ask for warm clothes, and last week a young mother asked for baby clothing, something new to the group, as they mainly help adults.

The Hotdog Group alternates with another volunteer group from Calvary United Church in St. Jacobs, every Tuesday. They take turns setting up in front of The Museum in downtown Kitchener in the early mornings.

“We’re really thankful to The Museum, who provided us that space, just because there’s a nice overhang and they have lights on for us and there’s lots of seating outside.”

Richter noted that the Hotdog Group never missed a beat, showing up every Tuesday during the pandemic, wanting to make sure the people they served didn’t feel forgotten.

“People recommended that we don’t go out, given the situation, but we felt it was important to be there because some people would rely on us and expect us to be there, so we wanted to continue to serve despite COVID. I felt it was important even if one person showed up that we were able to provide for them. It’s not just the physical needs – I think for many people it’s just a conversation.”

With winter around the corner, the group is looking for donations of warm clothing as well as individual sized hand sanitizer bottles to give out. Anyone looking to donate can call Richter at 519-635-6051.

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