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Ponoka Mat Program ‘in jeopardy’ of not opening without more volunteers

Program hopes to open in November

The Ponoka Mat Program is hoping to open up in November, to offer overnight shelter for those needing a warm place to sleep, but more volunteers are needed.

“The mat program is definitely in jeopardy of not opening without volunteers,” said Ponoka Housing and Homelessness Committee member Dr. Cayla Gilbert.

“We’re working to help out homeless and under-housed.”

Two volunteers are needed each night in order for the overnight shelter to be able to open for patrons.

There really is no limit to how many volunteers could sign up, as the more there are, the less shifts would fall on the same people.

“The more the merrier,” said Dr. Gilbert.

Volunteers can read, watch TV shows or play board games with each other during their shift. They will receive training and have access to 24-hour support.

The mat program opened its doors for the first time on Jan. 31, 2020, and closed in March, a couple of weeks earlier than anticipated, due to COVID-19.

READ MORE: Committee hopes to bring people out from the cold with overnight shelter program

The program is intended to run during the colder months of the year, ideally from November to April, says Gilbert.

Besides the need for volunteers, the second biggest hurdle to opening is ensuring the space is COVID-19 appropriate, and the committee is working with Alberta Health Services to get it ready.

“We’re definitely taking the COVID-19 situation seriously,” said Gilbert, adding there will be additional cleaning measures in place, sanitizer and masks available.

Dr. Gilbert says the program was well-used in its first season, two or three different individuals came on most nights the program was open.

Because of physical distancing requirements, they are only able to have four beds, rather than the six they had previously had, but it should be enough for the local need.

“We’ll be able to help four people at least,” she said.

The mat program is partnering with the Ponoka Food Bank to provide food for its patrons, so Gilbert says the best way to help the program, other than volunteering, is to make a donation to the food bank.

Warm clothing is not needed at this time, as there are still some items left from the previous year.

Intake is from 9 to 11 p.m., and patrons are asked to leave by 7 a.m. The entrance is the east door of the Ponoka First Baptist Church, in the older, brick portion of the building.

Those who would like to volunteer can contact the committee at ponokamatprogram@gmail.com.

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