VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – Most days she’s an accountant, but when an extreme weather alert is issued for Vancouver’s homeless Tammy Wilkinson starts contacting volunteers for St. Mark’s Extreme Weather Shelter in Kitsilano.

She was inspired to get involved three years ago when she saw a homeless man take up residence in her building’s parking garage. Concern over discarded drug paraphernalia got her thinking, and her church, which helps run St. Mark’s, gave her an outlet to make a difference.

“To me, you’re providing such a very basic thing in dinner and food and shelter, and so for me, having the chance to be able to ensure that’s provided, especially when the weather’s cold, is, for me, very rewarding,” she says.

Volunteers with the emergency shelter serve hot meals and sandwiches to up to 25 people a night.

“The group of guys we get in there are fantastic,” she says. “They’re so gracious and so polite, and I think, sometimes, volunteering and being able to provide I get more out of helping than, potentially, the people there.”

Irene Jaakson with the Greater Vancouver Shelter Strategy says volunteers like Wilkinson are indispensable. Two hundred extra beds were opened this weekend due to the dangerously cold, wet weather.

“That’s really thanks to the people who are operating the shelter services,” she says. “They give their time and they give their kindness and their compassion to people who are homeless, and they do this on their own volition, and that’s pretty sensational. It’s really thanks to those people that some of those extra spaces are going to be operational [this weekend].”

Jaakson says different sites are looking for volunteers at various times. St. Mark’s roster is full right now, but you can download a list of Greater Vancouver shelters here to enquire about volunteer opportunities, or email info@gvss.ca.