By Joe Fries
What do you get the woman who has nothing? Start with the essentials like a toothbrush, deodorant, lip balm and condoms. Then you seal it in a large Ziploc bag and hand it over for delivery to Jessica Donaldson, the person behind Kelowna-based H.O.P.E. Outreach (Helping Out People Exploited).
One evening a week, after most of the sensible-looking people have fled the downtown area, she goes out seeking sex-trade workers so that she may give them toiletries and some tools of the trade. She also curries favour with cigarettes – Number 7s, king size.
In exchange for the goodies, she records the girls’ names, their approximate ages and asks if they’ve had any bad dates. Then she gives them a card, an invitation to a pizza party and wishes them well.
The outreach worker knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end. It’s only been about 2 1/2 years since she extricated herself from the lifestyle in Vancouver. Donaldson, 24, turned over a new leaf once she became pregnant and then moved to Kelowna. She lives in the NOW supportive housing facility with her young daughter and is studying psychology at Okanagan College.
On Wednesday, she was one of 93 British Columbians living in subsidized housing who shared in $75,000 worth of awards and bursaries. Donaldson’s $1,000 bursary, as one of five recipients of the 2009 Alexandra Thorpe Award, was granted on the basis of her work with H.O.P.E.
The funds represent some breathing room in the battle against her budget at home.
“It means a little bit of time I can relax and not worry about putting food on the table,” she said. “I’m living almost entirely off student loans, which doesn’t cover everything you need.”
Thankfully, local churches and private donors cover most of what she needs for H.O.P.E., which is staffed by Donaldson, a handful of volunteers and another outreach worker.
H.O.P.E is a pilot project of PEERS Victoria, a resource centre for sex-trade workers in the capital. PEERS hired seven former sex-trade workers in seven B.C. cities and tasked them with establishing an outreach program in their respective communities; Donaldson’s started in November 2008.
Attractive, bright and seemingly quite healthy, she didn’t fit into any preconceived notions of what a former sex-trade worker should look like when she took a Kelowna.com reporter out with her one night in July.Sex-trade workers in Kelowna: 'Like they just came home from war'