Some people see the kindness in others and want to do whatever they can to help. Ali Hammington is one of those people who has dedicated her life to helping others in her community.
For 14 years, Hammington worked as a crisis counselor in the inner city, but became frustrated with how difficult it was to offer necessary services through non-profit agencies. From there, she decided to dedicate her life to volunteering. “So, I have been working, you know, odd jobs, anything to pay the rent. Put food on the table. I don’t have an expensive lifestyle.”
Originally from Winnipeg, Hammington moved to Edmonton around 25 years ago. “Then, through a rather unusual series of events, I found myself living in Alberta Avenue. Now, I never wanted to live in this neighbourhood. I never expected to live in this neighbourhood and I, especially, never expected to like it.” She gave herself six months to live there, then hoped to be gone. But by the end of those six months, she was in love with the area, and has been living there since 2018.
Hammington enjoyed all the art activity, but she also saw hungry and traumatized people, struggling and living in poverty. So, she decided to join the Alberta Avenue Community League board and address those needs as treasurer. In 2020, Hammington stepped up to the role of president. And in that role, she created the Hub Night program.
“The Hub Night program was originally conceived to be an opportunity for people in the neighbourhood who are lonely and may be struggling for resources and needing to connect with others, to come together,” Hammington explains. Organizers were envisioning this program when the pandemic hit and gatherings were cancelled. “Instead, we pivoted really quickly and we decided, ‘Well, we know there is food security issues, so let’s run an emergency food pantry out of the community league.’”
Every Thursday for a year and a half, people came to the league and received food and similar support. “We received food from the Food Bank to give to them, but while we were doing that, we really got to know our neighbours. We got to meet people at the community league we might never normally have seen before. People who live in the neighbourhood, but who don’t know the community league is a place for them.”
When restrictions were lifted in July 2021, the league started Hub Nights. But they didn’t stop there. Because Hammington was concerned about drug addictions and drug poisoning, the league partnered with an agency called Water Warriors and have trained over 100 people to use Naloxone, and trained 20 trainers to then help train others.
Hammington then showed a video by Dr. Gabor Maté called The Wisdom of Trauma, which reveals how trauma affects people and can lead to addiction. “I found that really, really struck a chord here in the neighbourhood. People could see that we are all a little bit broken. We are all just the same,” Hammington says and adds, “and that life is better if we support each other and help each other out.” From that, they were able to grow the volunteer-led Hub Night.
Each week, they offer meals, time in the gymnasium for children, a free lending library, bins of donated yarn for a possible knitting circle, computer access, and occasionally free grocery giveaways. They also have had volunteers offer to teach art classes, lead meditation sessions, and cook food for others. “It’s really amazing what this has grown into.”
But the pandemic hit the community league hard. “This is our 100th anniversary of the community league, and we are broke. We have a $45,000-dollar shortfall for this year. We can not even really afford to pay our staff.” The shortfall was due to two years of not being able to host rentals or participate in casinos, which is where the league gets most of its income. Hammington is fundraising to keep the programming going; she plans to run for another term as president and continue the work to make the league sustainable.
“We are going to be launching a massive fundraising campaign throughout the entire year,” Hammington says. “We are going to be doing all kinds of things.” Look for wine and cheese parties, silent auctions, show-and-shines, pub nights, concerts, and more. They will also be making an anniversary book filled with photos and memories from people who have lived in the neighbourhood for some time. “It’s breakneck fundraising for the next year.” It’s hoped that with COVID possibly winding down, the league will see an influx of rentals.
She adds: “I have always cared about people. Cared about people struggling and suffering. And I honestly think that one of the greatest difficulties of our modern society is that we have become so disconnected from each other. We started to live in our own little bubbles and communicate online.”
Maté says the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety but connection. Hammington adds, “Because when you have an addiction, you cut off your connections to everything that you value and you are completely alone. And the only way to solve that addiction is to start rebuilding those connections. And that is the purpose of Hub Night. To connect people.”