Stories of Change: Elmer Thomas

No stranger to hard work, Elmer was born in Selkirk and raised there by a foster family. As a teenager he went into business for himself doing yard work around town. From there he began driving a taxi, then went to work bagging flour. After that he found himself working for Schwan’s Canada. It was a job that required long hours of heavy lifting but he enjoyed it a great deal.

“I remember this one day I got home from work and the phone rang” he recalls. “It was my boss asking me if I wanted to work a late shift. I said okay and headed back to the loading dock. There were four trucks waiting to be unloaded. I didn’t finish that day until 5:30 AM. I got home, went to sleep, and a couple of hours later my boss was on the phone again. There were seven more trucks that needed unloading! I really earned my paycheck that week.”

Elmer’s hands-on approach to getting the job done is a big part of the reason why he’s having success with the MOST Program. Short for Mission: Off the Streets Team, MOST is a partnership between Siloam Mission and Downtown Winnipeg BIZ. Eight participants from Siloam Mission are taking part in the program, which provides full-time work from February to December. As someone on the front lines, cleaning and beautifying downtown Winnipeg, Elmer is proud of what he’s managed to accomplish so far.

“Taking care of the Earth and keeping it clean has always been very important to me” he says. “I see this as a way to give back to the planet that has given me life and provided me.”

Elmer also feels that the program is making a difference by instilling pride in the people of Winnipeg’s downtown. “The city has put plenty of garbage cans around in the downtown and people are starting to use them,” he says. “People are really grateful for the work we’re doing. One woman even gave us cookies!” And despite the occasional cookie, Elmer finds working in the fresh air to be healthy and satisfying. “I’ve always been a big guy,” he says “But even after just a week I noticed I was losing weight.”

The MOST Program is one of many initiatives that receives funding from the CEO Sleepout, hosted by Downtown Winnipeg BIZ. This year’s event will be the fourth Sleepout, which includes more than 150 public and private sector leaders from around the city. The focus of the event is to draw attention to and seek solutions for homelessness in Winnipeg. Since the event’s debut in 2011, over $600,000 has been raised to support the MOST program and a number of other organizations through employment opportunities and valuable career training initiatives. Many of the individuals who have received help from the program in the past have gone on to return to school, find permanent full-time work, and get back on their feet to be able to lead independent and fulfilling lives. Elmer’s thrilled to see so many of Winnipeg’s leaders coming together to make the city a better place. To him, it’s all about taking pride.

“If you show pride, even in a small way, you’ll inspire others to do the same,” he says. “It’s all about giving back. You find a way to do it, and you do it. If you do, others will follow. It’s just that easy.”