Caring ears, warm hearts, cookies

Published January 1, 2001

Dulcie Brown, left, and Barbara Pacey share a laugh in the street clinic where they bring compassion and cookies.

Kamloops, B.C.

IT IS Friday evening and cold drizzle falls on a city street corner where a prostitute stands and shivers.

She’s not waiting for much – just a john so she can make enough money to survive the weekend.

No comfort, no compassion and no sympathy from anyone passing by; everyone is giving her “the look.”

A few blocks away, 81-year-old Dulcie Brown and friend Barbara Pacey, 74, make their way up a steep set of stairs on Fourth Avenue with a plate of home-made cookies.

Another prostitute greets them at the top with a warm smile and invites them into a dimly lit room where sex trade workers surround a wooden table filled with snacks, tea and uncharacteristic warm smiles.

Looking extremely out of place in the Street Clinic office, the two seniors, members of the congregation at St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, slide into their regular chairs. They clasp their hands and offer something not one of the local hookers have found on a cold street corner: a caring ear, a warm heart and a darn fine cookie.

“Sometimes we’re really quite amazed by their stories,” says Dulcie in a genuine honest tone. “Sometimes it’s sad; it is for me anyway. But they’re brave and they’re humorous and they smile. They are good people who are trapped.”

The sounds of the room are filled with the brutality of the trade.

Words like “whore” and “hooker” filter into conversations.

Barbara gasps and shakes her head when one of the women refers to the group as whores.

“They’re just people,” she whispers, her eyes filled with compassion.

How these two caring women ended up hanging out with the city’s prostitutes is a rare, yet inspiring, story.

Fifteen months ago, the two seniors were taking their usual Friday evening stroll around town.

Each night they would stop on various street corners for a breather and chat with whomever was there. On a Friday night in downtown Kamloops, more often than not, it turned out to be a prostitute. It didn’t take long for one-time strangers to become friendly faces and an invitation was made for them to visit the Street Clinic.

“I was always interested in what was up here,” confesses Barbara.

[pullquote]Since then, the Cookie Ladies, as they’ve been dubbed, are there more often than any client. They have never missed their weekly ritual. Never.

Often, they are the only bright spot for the women forced into a brutal trade.

“When Dulcie and Barbara sit here, subjects come out where their eyes pop out more than usual,” says Sandra, one of the women of the night. “I’m sure they have no idea of the sex trade, but they come out and listen to the issues. Just their friendliness is uplifting and the lack of judgment puts a smile on our faces.”

Waiting patiently for her chance to speak, Heather, another prostitute, puts it into perspective.

“No matter how many people walk by and throw pennies at you, you know that there’s two people here who care.”

Adds Mabel: “It’s nice to know somebody loves us.”

As they listen to the issues and the disturbing stories of abuse and bad dates, one thing becomes clear: they are not naive to what is behind those smiles they create with the soft ears and tasty cookies.

“I certainly worry what goes on when they’re not around,” says Barbara. “But a lot of the time it’s the only thing that exists for them.”

Dulcie’s eyes shift to her friend and then around the room at the women listening. “It can’t be a good life.”

A sudden silence announces the truth she has spoken.

Moments later, they head for the steep steps towards Fourth Avenue. Not far behind, the “ladies of the night” are preparing for an evening’s work.

They have one more cookie and soak up one last smile from the Cookie Ladies.

Then, it’s off to work on a cold, wet street corner where friends are rarely made and genuine smiles are left behind.


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