June 22, 2024

“If I can help somebody, I just feel like why wouldn’t I?”

Kate Nixon, above, is a community leader who provides support and advocates for change in Guelph. Photo submitted by Nixon. 

Kate Nixon’s work makes ripples throughout Guelph. Her dedication creates waves, alleviating suffering by offering support. 

She distributes free food, clothes, and other supplies, provides opiate overdose response and training, rallies for refugees, and organizes support for families in crisis. 

“I just try to be there when the community needs bodies,” Nixon said. 

 “If there is something tangible we can do, I love finding solutions to things, and coming together, and mobilizing to address things.”

Nixon’s mother, Dee Gregory-Nixon, says Kate has always been considerate and thoughtful. 

At seven, she remembers Kate donating her $5 allowance towards a fundraiser for a hospital and seniors home.

“She was always volunteering,” Gregory-Nixon said.

She started volunteering with the Guelph Humane Society and with Children of Hope when she was 10.

“I think I could say that I’ve always been involved in activism,” Nixon said. 

In elementary school, she “used to go around and ask children to sign petitions for different issues. And then I would just email it out,” Nixon said.

“It probably made zero difference,” she chuckled, “but in my heart at the time I was like ‘oh I’m doing something.’”

Nixon next got involved with Artsy Activists, a youth-led activist collective. 

The first protest she organized was a rally for refugees in 2018, “addressing the 18 refugee families that were coming to Guelph. 

“We collected coats and warm clothing.”

In Grade 12, Nixon joined the social justice club at her high school.

“That really kind of lit the fire for me,” she said. 

Recently, Nixon has been “heavily involved in organizing with Wet’suwet’en solidarity work,” she said, and has worked with Guelph Palestine. 

She shows up to a range of protests to volunteer, sometimes marshalling marches. 

“Over the past several years I’ve been involved in so many different actions,” Nixon said, “because of everything that’s been going on, and just how many issues there are.

“I just try to be there where I can.”

Nixon wears many hats with professional and volunteer work. 

At the Church of the Apostles she is a program facilitator with the Helper Bees outreach program and volunteers with the refugee committee.

She’s an opioid poisoning response trainer with St. John’s Ambulance and a hotline supervisor and operator with the National Overdose Response Service. 

She graduated from Centennial College’s social service worker program in August 2022. 

In February 2019, while in high school, Nixon founded Your Downtown Guelph Friends with peers. 

Nixon holds a blue banner with the organization’s logo – four hands coming together with a heart at the centre. Photo submitted by Nixon. 

Your Downtown Guelph Friends is “a grassroots organization that is youth directed,” said Nixon. They distribute food, drinks, and other supplies twice a week. 

“The main objective is to use the power of friendship and solidarity to alleviate some of the hardships that people are facing.” 

In addition to meals and grocery hampers, Your Downtown Guelph Friends “provide material needs like coats and sleeping bags” said Nixon, as well as “whatever else is requested from us,” including advocacy. 

“Ultimately we are just looking to provide whatever support our community members tell us they need,” Nixon said.  

They do not require means testing to prove eligibility for help, “so anybody can just show up and access services,” Nixon said. This makes the support more accessible.

Your Downtown Guelph Friends began by “putting together little bags that included hand warmers and Tim Hortons gift cards.” 

Four months later they were distributing sandwiches on Fridays. “Then it evolved to dinner programming when there was no dinner services in Guelph on Sundays.

“I see that my community needs bodies on the ground to address the crises that are occurring, and I’m in a position that I’m able to be present, so why not?” 

Nixon said helping always just felt like “what you do,” because her parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents set that example through their involvement “in their communities, and how they supported other people.”

Nixon’s family are often by her side preparing and distributing food with Your Downtown Guelph Friends, or out in the community providing other support, including her mom, dad, and sister. 

“They come and support it a lot – especially my mom,” Kate said, who “comes to every meal service. And my parents help me pack up donations for people or go help people in need.”

“I think I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having really great role models in my life.”

She was told lots of stories about her “great-grandparents that were Lebanese immigrants, and my great-great-grandparents,” Nixon said.

Her maternal great-grandparents owned a fruit and vegetable store. When people were not able to pay they would give food away to people in need, or accept services in trade when people offered. 

“During the depression a lot of folks didn’t have anything, so they would often share food with people or have people in for meals,” said Gregory-Nixon of her maternal grandparents.  

They brought clothing, food, and other items out to the orphanage in St. Agatha, too, Gregory-Nixon said.

“My grandparents are like that too, just helping people,” said Nixon. 

Like when they bought paintings from a student raising money for school and then invited the stranger to their home to eat some spaghetti for dinner. 

“Those stories were passed down to me, so I have always kept those in my heart and I remember them,” said Nixon. 

“Subconsciously, I hope I’m making them proud, you know, feeding people. I hope I carry that on a little bit, their legacy, because you know it was these very small acts but it helped people out and I just thought that was what we were supposed to do.”

Gregory-Nixon said she always hoped her children would do what they can “to make a difference,” she said. 

“It’s not even that difficult to make a difference. You can do very little and see a change.”

Nixon clearly understands this well. “We made a small little ripple in the world,” she said, by coming together with the community and feeding people. 

“It didn’t seem like this grand gesture or anything to show up and feed people. It just felt like our moral obligation, like what we needed to do as other human beings,” she said, “because if I’m eating then we should all be eating you know?

Nixon serves free food in downtown Guelph. Left: Outside near the Guelph Community Health Centre. Photo submitted by Nixon.

Nixon dreams of a future where everyone’s needs are met. Where everyone is cared for and treated with respect. 

“I would just love it if we came to a place in the world where we actually looked at all of these things and took responsibility,” she said. “There needs to be collective care occurring.”

Collective care happens when we “meet people where they are at and try to help when we can,” Nixon said. “It doesn’t have to be this perfect process. We don’t need to have 20 meetings about it. We can just show up, right? We can just show up. And try our best.”  

“I just think everyone should have a seat at the table and everyone should have a plate, you know and if we can make that happen why wouldn’t we?”

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