B.C.'s newly minted finance minister Mike de Jong elicited cheers and tears of joy on Tuesday after announcing more than $200,000 in surprise funding to save the Warm Zone, a drop-in centre serving Abbotsford's marginalized women.
The Abbotsford West MLA was somewhat surprised to find himself at the end of a receiving line of the centre's supporters who crowded in to give him hugs.
Warm Zone outreach worker Erica Thomson burst into tears in his arms.
"I'm not used to this," de Jong said, after committing $208,000 in one-time funding to the Women's Resource Society of the Fraser Valley, which operates the Warm Zone.
The centre, providing a refuge and multiple services to street-entrenched women, was on the verge of closing due to lack of funds after federal support for the three-year pilot project ran out in the spring.
Warm Zone co-coordinator Michele Giordano was overwhelmed.
"I'm elated! It's a pinch-me moment. I'm still getting goose bumps just thinking about it," said Giordano.
"[The funding] is going to saves women's lives and speaks to the support we have in the community."
De Jong agreed that the level of support the Warm Zone enjoys in Abbotsford made it easier for him to advocate for the centre.
"It saves lives and changes lives, and in the process makes our community a better place," he said of the drop-in centre.
He pointed to the example of one woman who recently walked into the Warm Zone and made an anonymous donation of $10,000.
"I hope they feel good about what they did because it kept the Warm Zone open until [the province] could find the funding," de Jong said.
However, the finance minister said the centre will have to continue to build upon its relationships with the community to secure stable funding in the future.
"At the end of the day [the Warm Zone] team understands it needs to undertake local fundraising efforts to minimize dependence on taxpayers' dollars," he said.
The Warm Zone, located across the street from Jubilee Park in downtown Abbotsford, provides at-risk women with basic necessities such as showers, laundry facilities, clothing and personal care items, Internet, a telephone and hot meals.
It also provides access to counsellors, medical and legal services, HIV prevention, clean needles and help in obtaining emergency and stable housing.
Giordano said the next critical step is to find the Warm Zone a new location as its lease is running out.
The community could be sure that every dollar of the new funding would benefit Abbotsford's vulnerable women, she said.
Brigitte Morelli can verify that claim and did so after taking the opportunity to thank de Jong.
"I was on the street," said Morelli.
"I had no money. I was addicted and they offered me shelter."