Communities rally around McDonald
Woman has a home, her dog and hope
MUSKOKA - It’s November 1st, snowy, cold and Roxane McDonald is looking through the windshield of her Ford Focus.
It’s been more than a year since the 45-year-old widow and single mother with a degenerative knee condition has been living in her late-model car on the streets, where, she says, at least six other people have joined her nightly in her hometown of Gravenhurst and many more are hidden throughout Muskoka.
But on this night, she’s seeing her life from the other side again.
In the crisp night air she cleans the white fluff off the windshield, grabs what remains of her belongings from the car and turns her back on the chill and the past year. Now, her life is full of warmth, comfort, security, clean, hot water; the simple basics of life that circumstance robbed from her. Better yet, is the bursting sense of hope that had begun to waiver with every approaching day of winter.
McDonald has a home.
“You almost don’t want to believe that it’s true; it’s been so long since I slept in a bed,” she said, fighting back tears of utter joy. “I don’t want to cry anymore, but at least now it’s for different reasons.”
Following last week’s (Oct. 31) edition of the Gravenhurst Banner, featuring a third story on the local woman and her fight for dignity and education, members of the communities of Bala and Torrance had seen enough.
“When we first read the stories we simply couldn’t believe that something like that was happening in Muskoka, with all of its affluence and its reputation. To think there were homeless people in Muskoka was stunning, I think, to a lot of us,” said Kimberly Ellis, owner of Bala Chippers Fish and Chips. “To me it was just unacceptable that that went on any longer.”
Ellis, whose restaurant also has two apartments above, had one of her units become available on Oct. 31 and rather than seek out a new tenant, she made contact with McDonald and asked to meet.
McDonald drove her home-on-wheels to Bala for the meeting and days later still had difficulty describing her reversal of fortune.
“I simply cannot believe the generosity of these people,” she said. “It’s beyond overwhelming to me; I’m accustomed to helping people, but now I know for sure how they feel and it’s just overwhelming.”
Ellis offered McDonald the available unit and while there will still have to be some rent paid by the woman who earns a meager $530-ish each month on a widow’s allowance, there were more astonishing surprises to come. Ellis furnished the apartment, took extra plates, utensils, cooking supplies and more from the restaurant up to McDonald, provided her linens, towels and all the proper accoutrements most take for granted.
“She essentially has nothing, we could not just provide her a roof and bed and expect that would be enough,” Ellis said.
But then more people began to show up to meet McDonald. She was taken to the local grocery store, supplied food, given a hot Meals on Wheels dinner, a proper winter jacket, coupons to purchase more food and even financial support.
“And that was just in the first two hours,” Ellis said. “People started coming from all over the area to make sure she was comfortable and if there was anything else she needed.”
Linda and Jack Hutton, members of the First Muskoka Congregational Christian Church and creators of the Mustard Seed Fund there, were in that line. With a “substantial” donation in hand to the Mustard Seed Fund from a private citizen, they were well armed to make sure she had food and help she needed to get setup in her apartment.
“We sat her down and told her that she’s never going back in that car (to live),” Jack said. “We couldn’t let this go on any longer; everybody kind of assumed I think at the start people would step up and help her, but that never happened.
“We figured at that point how could we possibly not do what needs to be done; and this is exactly what the Mustard Seed Fund is for,” he added.
They also told McDonald to fetch Shaggy, her dog who for the past year has been living with friends and who she thought she would never be paired with again. The community supplied McDonald with food for Shaggy and the two curl up at night now, in a bed, for the first time in ages.
“When a community comes together, anything is possible,” said Linda. “But we’re not done; she’s out of her car but she’s not out of the woods yet.”
McDonald will still need support paying her rent and saving for school. Linda is helping create a budget, but McDonald will need funds for a second education and a laptop. The church is also hoping to find a sponsor to provide McDonald the $4 required for a Meals on Wheels dinner a couple of times each week.
The benefit of now having an address is not just the warmth and security. Now McDonald can apply for things such as continuing education funding and welfare or other ODSP services to assist her while she recovers from knee surgery and attempts to re-enter the workforce. All of these were unavailable to her without an address.
“The best thing in life you can do is to do something for someone else,” McDonald said, adding her goal is to expand on 30 years of fundraising and charity work by becoming an accredited professional fundraiser. “This is hard for me, to accept help like this, but I have to accept we all need help sometimes.
“In the end, this is not about me, it’s about the other people still out there,” she added. “I can only hope my experience helps someone else and that one day I can make a difference for someone, like these people have in my life.”
The assistance came at the right time, and McDonald said she couldn’t be more thankful. It snowed for the first time that night.
“Waking up to the snow (the morning of Nov. 2), it came as a relief, we knew she was warm and safe inside,” Jack Hutton said. “It simply couldn’t have gone on another day.”
McDonald has started an online campaign to help herself raise funds to return to school. If anyone would like more information or to contribute to her efforts, check out the website at indiegogo.com/projects/256666.
To contribute to the Mustard Seed Fund on behalf of McDonald or for its general coffers, make cheques payable to FMCCC, Box #685 Bala, P0C 1A0 and people can specify in the memo if it is to be for McDonald or for the general fund.
“I’m bound and determined that I will be a professional fundraiser or on a stage one day laughing about all of this,” McDonald said. “This experience has to be for a reason and it has to help someone else.”