As Toronto bundles up for another cold winter, the necessity to provide warmth to those without shelter becomes increasingly critical. That’s why entrepreneur Jody Steinhauer is working hard to ensure that people on the streets are not left in the cold.
Project Winter Survival is a volunteer-driven initiative that Jody founded in 2000, when she learned of the increasing numbers in the usage of shelters for the homeless across Toronto. Already the head of her own company The Bargains Group, Jody said that she and her husband decided to start an organization together to raise money to assemble survival kits for the needy.
“We wanted to gather as many donations as possible for products,” said Jody. “To raise money to purchase items that could get donated to build the kits, and pass them on to the shelter organizations.”
Today, the Project Winter initiative is under Jody’s national charity, Engage and Change. It is an organization founded to encourage people to give back to their communities. Her work has not gone unnoticed by her colleagues. Bruno Scorsone, the executive director of The Good Neighbor’s Club praises her compassion for the needy.
“Jody is a human dynamo who cares for the poor and marginalized,” said Bruno. “Her initiatives to help the organizations that work with the homeless and forgotten are creative and provide essential resources to those that need these the most.”
As a result, PWS has been set up in cities across Canada. Essential items for the kits include gloves, hats and scarves, as well as hygiene products such as toothbrushes, moisturizer and deodorant. Other items such as a deck of cards or comic books can help keep minds active, said Jody.
Volunteers help assemble the kits before they are eventually distributed to up to 150 shelters across the city, as well as to agencies such as the Red Cross. According to the website, over 18,000 survival kits have been distributed over the past 14 years. However, one of the big challenges for PWS is getting enough funding to supply the kits.
“Last year, we requested 12,000 kits, and we built 3000,” explained Jody. “The question is always, how can we make more kits, keeping them to same kind of quality products, and how can we try and get as much possible donated?”
With this year’s earlier cold snap, Jody said that survival kits are already in high demand.
“The challenge is harder this year, because in order to get donations, warehouses have to get surpluses,” she added. “Nobody has got extra gloves or toques, because customers are buying them.”
A donation of $25 can help sponsor a kit of lifesaving items. As well, donating new and unused items for PWS can make a world of difference to keeping someone warm on a cold night.
For Jody, hearing how the kits have helped others is what has been most inspiring for her.
“I have heard countless stories of people who told me that these kits had saved their lives, because they were living on the street at one point,” said Jody. “It’s hearing about the difference these kits can make.”
On January 17th, 2015, Project Winter Survival will have a distribution day for volunteers to assemble the survival kits before loading them onto trucks to be distributed.
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