Dawn and Geoff Butt arrived in Williams Lake on July 6 to start their new jobs as lieutenants charged with leading the Williams Lake Salvation Army.
They picked up the keys to their house, opened a couple of boxes and settled into bed.
“My phone rings. I’m like, who is this? Who even has my number yet,” says Geoff. “This was head office in Burnaby saying ‘Hi, I’m John Hewitt, I’m with Emergency Services. You’re in Williams Lake. Geoff, I just want to let you know you guys are on alert.”
From that point on the couple was fully immersed in wildfire relief efforts – all without having fully unpacked.
While they do take emergency disaster instruction as part of their training, “that’s not nearly enough,” says Dawn.
The couple offered food through the Salvation Army’s food bank, prepared food hampers and meals, offered water, vouchers, coffee, tea, snacks and spiritual care for whomever asked.
“There was a lot of praying with people,” says Dawn. “People would come up to me and go I don’t believe in God, but can we pray?”
While it was a crazy way to start their new job, the fires gave them a different orientation to the town.
“The fires gave us an opportunity to build relationships with people who don’t necessarily come through our doors or who might be too ashamed to come and ask for help from the food bank, but desperate times call for desperate measures and so we were there to remind people that it didn’t have to be an emergency to come and see us.”
Dawn and Geoff are married, with two children, and work as a team to provide the services the Salvation Army offers.
“We share the pulpit, share the ministry,” says Geoff.
“Most of the time it is awesome, actually, because it always gives you that person to bounce ideas off of or split the tasks,” says Dawn. “For instance, I suck at budgets. He rocks it so he can be in charge of the budget and I don’t have to worry about it because I know that it is one and done properly.”
“It’s also good because sometimes you just need to vocalize stress or an issue at work, church or centre, whatever is going on. Your spouse is a safe person who can understand where you are coming from.”
The two moved to Williams Lake from Winnipeg, where Dawn is from, where they met and were married before moving to Ontario and then back to the prairie city. Geoff hails from Newfoundland.
Their work at the Salvation Army involves coordinating the store – where they say 100 per cent of the proceeds go back into the local programs – running the drop-in centre and food programs and running the ministry.
“We do all of this because it’s part of our Christian faith. It’s no good to tell someone on an empty stomach, you haven’t befriended them, you haven’t gotten to know them and you want to push some religion on them? That’s so stupid.”
Both are working to get to know the people in their drop-in centre.
“Lots of people have opened up and shared their stories with us now, which is great,” says Dawn. “At first they don’t want to trust you because they don’t know who we are or what our agenda is, but when we took the time to go and hang out … letting them see that I am just as human as they are has really opened doors. They feel comfortable coming to us and they come and ask for help, they ask for prayer. They ask do you just have five minutes?”
“When all else fails and people are in situations whether it is through addictions, prostitution, violence, whatever, when push comes to shove and they are really, really desperate for help – really looking and saying I’ve had enough. If they don’t trust you because you haven’t befriended them at a dinner table or haven’t befriended them over a cup of coffee at the bar, or playing crib – if we ever learn – you’re not a safe person to help.”
While they had hoped to get started during the summer, the two are now looking to build up the Salvation Army’s local reputation and see what other needs they might be able to help fill in the community.
“We’re putting those feelers out and seeing what needs need to be met – we don’t want to take over from anybody else, we don’t want to duplicate services because that’s not a good use of our services,” says Dawn.
“One of our goals is we would like to utilize our space a little better so we’d like to figure out different ways we can do that.”
Currently, they’re looking to see if they can help provide spaces for youth in the area.
Additionally, they’re always on the lookout for volunteers, especially to help with their feeding programs.
The couple is looking forward to spending what will hopefully be a long time in Williams Lake.
“I want to be able to extend a hand.”