Willow River Park opened as Victoria Park in 1806 and is Kitchener’s oldest park. Its historic pavilion has hosted many milestones in residents’ lives and now serves as a gathering place for a community of people living on the island in tents to come together, sort and share their limited resources.
Fightback KW is a small group of compassionate individuals who ensure the pavilion is replenished often as resources grow scarce. Ed Edwards is one of the organizers in a team that has grown and shrunk over the last six months since residents began living on the park’s island.
“We pooled our money, right at the beginning and went out to buy tents at Walmart,” Edwards said.
When donations come in on the island, the voice of the person carrying them can be heard across the park, reminding park-goers that this is an issue that affects them. Those who are home, able and in need stumble to the same pavilion that hosted weddings and birthday parties to meet their daily needs.
But now residents of Willow River Park face a whole new challenge—the coming winter.
“Everybody’s got blankets right now…But as it gets colder, they’re not going to be enough. We’re trying to get our hands on some sub-zero sleeping bags and foam sleeping pads that can serve as insulation and keep people from sleeping on the ground,” Edwards said.
Edwards spoke about the challenge of being a small team in a time of great need.
“It is hard to spend fifteen dollars on just one thing, when you can take fifteen dollars and buy more of something else that is desperately needed. But it doesn’t fulfill the need of that one $15 thing,” Edwards said.
And so, Fightback KW turned to social media.
“As the season grows colder, Tent City is asking for donations of the following items: Coats, sweaters, gloves, hats, socks, blankets, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, hot packs and tents,” one of their tweets read.
For a long time, the image of a person with a blanket outside overnight in KW has left a striking image in the minds of local residents, housed and otherwise. Fightback KW also tries to make donating easier for donors.
“We’ll pick up donations, or meet you at the parking lot.” Edwards said. “Whatever it takes to get the items to those in need.”
Racheal Walser is a local literary short fiction author and poet working in feminist non-profit. She lives on a ranch for retired house hippos along with her great white carpet, er, dog, Anthem and her not so squish, Squish cat who meows maliciously at feeding time. Her work has appeared in publications by Mensa, Fast Forward Press, After the Pause, Canadian Stories and many more.