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Motor Oil and Sidewalk Chalk: This is Really Living


It’s Sunday. Eager volunteers gather on an overcast June morning. Some carry hoses, buckets, and sponges; others lug cases of motor oil. A truck arrives with food to unload—bagels, fruit, muffins.

There’s a high dose of excitement in the air. While it’s our fifth Free Oil Change for Single Parents, it’s our first event of any kind at our new facility, the Really Living Centre. The building, in fact, is still several weeks from completion. Thankfully, it’s far enough along to host an outdoor event of this nature. For today, porta potties and construction dust will have to do.

Eager to get started.

A cardboard box is opened and a sea of bright blue “Compassion Hamilton” t-shirts emerge, transforming the over 50 volunteers on site. Our matching apparel reflects our unity of purpose. From 78-year-old Elsie who will welcome and chat with car owners while they wait, to five-year-old Declan on the car wash crew, to a fluffy eight-month-old cockapoo named Bernie who will happily accept petting from the car owners’ children—every volunteer has their role, and they’re amped up to serve.

Bernie succumbs to the love.

At 10 am, as the sun begins to peek through, the first of our registered vehicles arrives. Pre-registration is necessary so that our filter sponsor, Mountain Autotech of Hamilton, can supply us with the appropriate oil filters in advance. This has been accomplished through an online registration system in the two month’s prior. Most of our registrants have connected with the event through Facebook ads; others are returning or have heard about it through friends. Appointments are staggered every 15 minutes to minimize vehicle owners’ wait times.

Upon arrival, cars proceed through three stations. At the first, three service areas have been set up where oil is changed and a basic check of tire pressure, fluid levels, and lights is completed. At the second, detailing is done—cars are vacuumed and interior surfaces wiped. A car wash at the third and final station completes each vehicle’s TLC experience.

Who knew butterflies could vacuum?
The crazy car wash crew.

Even though we’re limited to the outdoors and surrounded by construction material, a cozy little wait area has been set up, where children become butterflies and tigers through the magic of face paint, then happily design sidewalk chalk masterpieces or take a turn in the bouncy castle. Single parents chat amongst themselves and with church members, exchanging numbers and enjoying snacks and drinks. Even when presented with the keys to their freshly-serviced cars, several stay back, enjoying the day and the camaraderie.

Sidewalk artists at work.

Now and then a WW2 era plane from the nearby Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum thunders overhead, circling around in the now mostly blue sky. We couldn’t have asked for better entertainment or a nicer day.

We wrap up at 2 pm and everyone pitches in to clean up. As we turn in our volunteer apparel, the crisp blue fabric on many of the shirts has given way to oily stains, coloured chalk marks, and smudges of face paint. No matter. These are the battle marks of volunteers fully-invested in their duties.

Our first community service event at the Really Living Centre has been a success. By God’s grace, we look forward to many more to come.