North York Mirror
By Lisa Rainford
So far this season, an initiative called Project Winter Survival has assembled as many as 3,000 survival kits and distributed them to almost 170 homeless shelters and outreach programs in Toronto.
Still, at least 8,000 more kits have been requested and need to be filled, according to Jody Steinhauer, founder of the York-based charity Engage and Change, which was created to foster good citizenship while encouraging communities to give back. Giving people and companies the opportunity to volunteer, one of Engage and Change’s initiatives is Project Winter Survival.
“Now that winter has just hit, we’ll be building more kits. We’re looking for donors, for new products, to go into the kits,” Steinhauer said. “Every year, I say, ‘We don’t want to be here next year.’ This is not a solution; it’s a Band-Aid. In a city like Toronto, homelessness shouldn’t exist.”
Last year, three homeless men died on Toronto streets, Steinhauer said.
“After we gave out the kits, there weren’t anymore deaths,” she said. “Without these kits, people are freezing. We need more shelter beds.”
The kits are distributed to local communities through social service agencies, like The Salvation Army, Red Cross, Out of the Cold, Eva’s Initiatives for Homeless Youth, and Covenant House, among others, which then ensure they go directly to those who need them.
“It’s a stringent application process,” Steinhauer said. “They have to be a registered charity. These kits are only given out to charities that have an outreach component.”
Each kit contains such items as a sleeping bag, knapsack, toothbrush, soap and shampoo, gloves, socks, rain poncho, deck of cards, stress ball, lip balm, facial tissues, bottled water, insulated cup, deodorant, razor and shaving cream.
All products and items are brand new, Steinhauer stressed.
“Unfortunately, (Project Winter Survival) is a very necessary program. There’s a real education that we try to do. We’re not here to judge. Homelessness affects every walk of life,” she said.
So many people live paycheque to paycheque and could be one paycheque away from being homeless, she added.
“We don’t have the solution. It’s about bringing the business community together with individual people,” Steinhauer said.
Since its inception 17 years ago, Project Winter Survival has distributed more than 26,000 kits.
The initiative launched earlier this month with an event that brought together corporate sponsors and volunteers, who assembled the 3,000 kits. Then, the agencies that support the homeless arrived in the afternoon to pick them up, the volunteers helping to load vehicles.
Ninety per cent of the more than 30 products that went into the kits on Saturday, Jan. 16, were donated, Steinhauer said.
More products are needed. Cash donations can be made online.
To find out more, visit engageandchange.org
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