The mostly-female audience began smiling and snapping pictures when it was time for the eight burly and fully-uniformed police officers and firefighters to walk across the meeting room floor wearing bright red high heels.
‘Are you man enough?’ was the motto they chanted afterwards.
The spectacle was just a teaser of a new charity event that was unveiled at Women in Crisis (Algoma)’s annual meeting last night at Algoma Water Tower Inn and Suites.
Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, as it’s called, is to take place on May 26, 2018.
It is a multi-country and multi-city event made up of teams of men raising funds and then walking one mile in high heel shoes.
The money goes to "local rape crisis centres, domestic violence shelters and other sexualized violence education, prevention, and remediation programs."
Locally, Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, Sault Ste. Marie Fire Services, and Ontario Provincial Police Sault Ste. Marie are already involved.
Here is a promo video also released at Thursday's meeting.
While the charity event is done with a fun spirit, the cause is much more sobering.
That aspect was portrayed at Thursday's meeting as a letter written by sexual-abuse survivor Lauri Mercer was read aloud by her Women in Crisis counselor Sarah Paciocco.
'Looking back now, and knowing what I know now, I see that he was grooming me from the very beginning. He would buy me nice things. He even bought me a new puppy. And I later learned that he would specifically pray on single mothers with daughters – mothers who would be financially dependent on him.' wrote Mercer in the letter.
Mercer, who's story was previously written about by SooToday, went into her history with sexual abuse and overcoming alcoholism.
For Mercer, the publication of the SooToday story, and how she continues to speak out, is her way of helping other women heal, and perhaps, bringing more survivors to WIC.
WIC is a non-profit organization that isn’t just a women’s shelter but also offers in-house child care, 24-hour and one-on-one counsellors, family court support, transitional housing, and other services.
“They worked for me,” said Mercer. “With (Paciocco), I felt very comfortable with her. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to go. So, I’m no different from anyone else. (At first) you don’t want to go, you don’t want to talk about it.”
Mercer and Paciocco said that sometimes the hardest step is just walking through the front door.
Since her story was published, Mercer said she’s been approached by an abuse victim who wanted to confide in her, and another friend asked her to be someone his daughter could talk to about substance abuse issues.
Mercer and Paciocco said that as a survivor, just by telling their story to a counsellor, is helping others.
"I always tell women… that we learn from the women that we work with more than we do in school or in a textbook,” said Paciocco. “All of the things that they have the courage to talk about and their experiences we can take that forward to a new woman that we work with.... So we always tell women that you telling your story and talking to us is also a gift they give to other women."