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Local Sunday School students lead initiative in bridging the gap

Daughter of Outlook residents part of staff doing their part

SASKATOON - Contained within the walls of a building on 20th Street West in Saskatoon is a kitchen, dining area, youth space, kids’ meeting rooms, classrooms, offices and more. But at the heart is a team of people, including a staff member with local connections, who invite the community into a space where relationships are built and the love of God is shared.

The Bridge on 20th Fellowship Centre is an interdenominational ministry that Volunteer Coordinator Carla Seib says, “exists to meet people where they’re at, accept them as they are, and for God’s body to share his unconditional love.”  It is a place where every staff member is on the floor, interacting with guests and seeking to build relationship with those from the inner city who drop in each day.

On that staff team is Carla Seib, daughter of Outlook residents Gordon and Catherine Rott. Carla grew up in Hanley and attended LCBI for her grade 12 year. Carla spent a summer working in town prior to beginning university studies, after her parents moved from Hanley to Outlook. She said a special memory was a treat from a local convenience store. “I’d never had a slush with ice cream in it,” she said with a laugh. “The first one was at the D and E in Outlook.”

After a year studying in Saskatoon, Carla headed to Briercrest. Playing volleyball was a big draw, but so was the desire to sort out what God was doing in her life. “I wanted to get grounded in what God’s Word said, and what his purpose for my life was,” she explained.

After attaining her Associate of Arts in Biblical Studies, Carla said her heart was passionate for serving Christ with a local church. She returned to Saskatoon and got involved in a small church where she worked with children’s and music ministries, and served on committees.

After focusing on family for several years, Carla began wondering what God might want her to do and where she could contribute. That led her to The Bridge where she was hired as a receptionist. One year later she became the Volunteer Coordinator, a position she has been in for four years. The most fulfilling aspect of her work is getting to know the people. “It’s easy to judge people on the outside,” Carla remarked, “but when you sit down and have a conversation with someone you get to know their story. Whether it’s their past or what they’re facing right now, the challenges they’ve faced and are facing, I have developed a whole different relationship with someone and a whole different respect for who they are.”

All age groups can access services at The Bridge, from children to the elderly. “We have 250 to 300 people drop in per day,” Carla shared. “We have regulars but we also meet lots of people who come for the first time.” At The Bridge visitors will find meals, a Free Store, a Kids Club, Young Adults program, Bible studies and a place where staff will do all they can to assist in whatever needs someone might have. “We serve breakfast and lunch, share in conversation, and just meet people where they are at.”

The Bridge is a Christian ministry funded entirely by private donations. Other than a couple of government grants for specific projects it receives no ongoing public funding, so the work is supported by individual donors, church partners and fundraising events. “People donate a lot of goods,” Carla explained. “We get a lot of people donating from their gardens or they’ll see a post of what we need and they’ll go buy it and drop it off. We also have a few business partnerships and companies that donate items from time to time.”

A Free Store allows visitors to look for essentials amongst donations of gently used, clean clothing, along with hygiene items such as shampoo, razors, toothbrushes and toothpaste. This time of year there is also high demand for coats, mitts, toques and boots.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Outlook has encouraged its members to donate items for The Bridge in an initiative led by their Sunday School. Superintendent Krystal LeBlanc explained, “At Sunday School we want to instill in the kids the values that they learn about in the Bible, such as helping those in need and using the gifts God gives us to bless others. During the Christmas season it is easy for kids to get caught up in making their list for Santa and thinking about what they want for Christmas, so at Sunday School we want to encourage the kids to look outward rather than inward, to the needs in the world around them and to find joy in giving.” 

Over the years, projects that have been chosen deliver items around the world, but Krystal appreciates the local emphasis that comes with supporting The Bridge. “I really like that we have been able to do a giving project that is closer to Outlook because it helps the kids to recognize that there are kids close to home that have needs that aren’t being met and that sharing God’s love can happen right here, not just far away in other countries,” Krystal shared.

Most of the donations currently being collected by the church will be used in the Free Store, but the Sunday School effort will also provide something special for all the children in Kids Club. A big Christmas event is in the works for December 23 and Carla said a call has gone out for donations for that, including all the fixings for Christmas dinner. She added, “Gifts are given to every person that comes that day so items donated by Bethlehem will certainly be part of that.”

While the pandemic created challenges for many ministries, it provided some good insight into how The Bridge delivers its services. “We had to restrict how many could come in at a time,” Carla said, “and we just realized it really fit what we wanted to do. We wanted to build better relationship with people so we could have one-on-one conversations at a table, we could take time to really see who is coming in and out, and so we’ve continued. Even though there’s no specific restrictions right now, we still have a limit on how many we have in at a time. It’s been good because we’re all about relationships.”

The Bridge is also making plans for expansion after purchasing additional property, in a move that demonstrated how dedicated its supporters are. “The opportunity came up,” Carla shared, “so we put out the word to our partners, and within one month we raised $300,000 to purchase the lot next door.” They have now kicked off a capital campaign to renovate the building and have set a $500,000 fundraising goal for work to start in the new year.

Donations to that campaign, the Christmas event, or for the daily work of The Bridge are tremendously important. As Volunteer Coordinator, Carla also welcomes those who would like to come and be part of hands-on help. “There is room for volunteers to come in. We are looking for volunteers who are partners in the mission of serving the Lord.”

Beginning next month, The Bridge is unveiling a video series called ‘Gift of Dignity’ on its website and Carla says it is a good way to learn more about their work. “Every day in December there will be a short video unveiled of something happening at The Bridge, and how to support that,” she said. For those who are longtime supporters or those who just want to learn more, the videos will provide insight into what The Bridge is all about.

Krystal LeBlanc is encouraged by the ministry taking place. “As a Christian organization, the Bridge is doing a phenomenal job of sharing God’s unconditional love right in downtown Saskatoon, meeting people where they are at and blessing and supporting them in whatever ways they can,” Krystal shared. It made getting the Sunday School children involved an easy decision. “I really like that we can support them with donations of clothing and hygiene products, a tangible thing that kids can see. I also like that we can connect kids with kids by giving to their Kids Club. I think it is more meaningful for our kids to know they are blessing kids just like themselves.”

Sharing love without condition is what Carla finds so fulfilling about her work. “We do what we can to make sure every person that comes through the door feels cared for. We want to show unconditional love. Our main goal is to see transformation in people’s lives.” Her time at The Bridge has given her a perspective she is grateful for. “So much growth has taken place in my own heart towards the community we serve in Saskatoon who are really struggling. When you see challenges it just gives me a greater compassion and really a thankfulness for what I have experienced in my life.”