Ashley Meilleur’s chance encounter with a stranger changed her life, and is now beginning to affect others in a positive way.
The Headingley resident, who works as a community support worker, had just dropped off a client near Portage Avenue and Maryland Street when she noticed a woman panhandling at the intersection, trying to catch the attention of drivers waiting for the light to change.
"I gave her my whole lunch bag," Meilleur, 29, said. The light changed to green and she drove off, not realizing that the bag also contained her business cell phone until her mother in Ontario called her on Meilleur’s personal cell phone. The woman had phoned her mother’s number to report that she had Meilleur’s phone.
The two met later that evening, and Meilleur got her phone back. She said she chatted with the woman for about an hour, and heard how she and a male companion had ended up panhandling on Winnipeg streets.
"It broke my heart how one wrong turn can change your life," Meilleur said.
The single mother of a seven-year-old daughter, Meilleur has also experienced personal tragedy — she was treated for cancer last year, and said she usually contributes to a charity or volunteers during the holiday season in memory of one of her other children, a daughter who died on Dec. 23 four years ago.
She made a promise that the woman would have a warm meal on Christmas Day.
This promise quickly grew into a much larger campaign as Meilleur posted ads online asking others to donate gift items, $10 grocery store gift cards, blankets, sleeping bags, coats, boots, socks, long underwear, and personal hygiene items to be given out as gifts to Winnipeg’s homeless people on Christmas Day. She plans to drive through areas frequented by homeless people to deliver wrapped gifts on Dec. 25.
Speaking the day after her ads appeared, Meilleur said the response has been overwhelming. People have contacted her about making donations and a few have volunteered to help her hand out the gifts.
"It’s important to always give back," she said, adding that’s a value she wants to teach her daughter.
Meilleur can be reached at 204-509-1557 and donations made through firstname.lastname@example.org or The Lending Hand Winnipeg on Facebook.