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How the pandemic allowed this Bradford woman to devote more time to give back

After a change in work schedule due to COVID-19, Erin Kiss used her downtime to volunteer at Bradford’s new Out of the Cold cafe

Bradford resident Erin Kiss recently started volunteering at the new Out-of-the-Cold Café on Frederick Street, Bradford – an opportunity that Kiss shares arose out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kiss is a local mother of three daughters – Kiera, 12, Addison, 6, and Caitlin, 4, – and wife of a salesman, Steve. Kiss originally grew up in Richmond Hill, and after several moves from Peel to Keswick, she and her family finally settled in the Town of Bradford where they have resided for the past seven years.

Kiss is a security coordinator for York Region. Her primary function is to facilitate safety training for other York Region staff members such as fire training, run, hide, and defend training, and general safety practices. Kiss also overseas different securities in the region such as cameras, door access, and alarms for specific buildings managed by York Region.

Prior to her position as security coordinator, Kiss spent 15 years as a transit officer with VIVA.

“As an officer, I often dealt with people [afflicted with] addictions, mental health issues, and homelessness,” shares Kiss, adding that she loved working for VIVA before moving on to her current role. “I had a lot of conversations with people [while] checking to ensure they paid for the bus… you learn they have mental disabilities and are often homeless."

Kiss says people would often ride the bus all day because they had nowhere else to go to keep warm during the colder months, and that sitting in a Tim Hortons shop was not always an option if they did not have money to buy a coffee.

“What else are they going to do when it’s freezing cold out?” remarks Kiss. “I have a different appreciation for people that are ‘left behind.'"

Prior to working for York Region, Kiss did security for several hospitals and worked as a dispatcher. For one year, she volunteered her time at the Trillium Hospital in Mississauga in the Palliative Care Unit.

“It was very tough but rewarding at the same time,” remembers Kiss. “I’ve always loved working in hospitals and working in that environment… I have an appreciation for people in palliative care and their families. It was a good opportunity to hear their stories and be their sounding board."

When Kiss and her family relocated to the Town of Bradford, they were busier than ever. But when news of the Covid-19 pandemic hit, a shift in the family’s schedule gave Kiss an opportunity to find volunteer work within her community.

“[Steve] wasn’t working in the first lockdown, so he took care of the kids while I worked,” explains Kiss. “Then life shut down… thankfully I have an employer who understands the [Covid] situation."

Steve went back to his day job, while Kiss remained at home with the girls but was still able to do her security job with York Region, while leaving som time in her new schedule to give back to her community. Kiss heard about volunteer opportunities at the new café operated by WOW Living, ‘Out of the Cold Café’. The café is geared towards helping those who need a warm place to escape during the winter months and includes a free hot meal and drinks graciously sponsored by many local businesses. Kiss signed up, took the volunteer training and began helping out at the café every Saturday (pre-lockdown).

“It’s been incredible!” says Kiss. “I get to be with other people, learn about them, talk to them… the main purpose is to have conversations and establish relationships, so they want to come back again."

Due to the second lockdown, the café is currently closed on the weekends (open on weekdays only for the time being) but Kiss shares that prior to the lockdown she was starting to see relationships forming and connections being made at the café, and says there is a definite need for the service.

“I wouldn’t have had this opportunity without Covid happening,” shares Kiss. “My family is 100 percent supportive of [volunteering] and I’m hoping I’m setting a good example for our daughters."

On Christmas Day, Kiss was at the café helping package free Christmas dinners (through CrossTrainers Canada) and aided in delivering meals to those in need or who were alone over the holidays. 

When Kiss is not volunteering, working, or tending to one of her three girls, she enjoys decompressing with her ‘side gig’; selling nail polish.

“It’s my escape,” says Kiss. “The money I make from it I just pamper myself and buy more nail polish."

Currently, Kiss is adding to her first aid and CPR certificates by completing a course in CPP (Certified in Protection Professional) through ASIS International (American Society for Industrial Security).

Looking forward, Kiss says she would love to see an adult drop-in centre formed once the café closes down in the early spring, and plans to continue volunteering in the community.

“This is just the beginning for me, I’m not gonna stop there!” she says.