Around 100 volunteers will be preparing 3000 winter survival kits at a warehouse in Caledonia Road, Toronto, to distribute to agencies in the GTA this Saturday.
Already two homeless men have died in the city, and extreme cold alerts have been declared when temperatures dipped below the minus 15 mark a number of times. In such a climate, winter survival kits for the homeless assume a grave importance.
“The kits contain over 30 items, such as a sleeping bag, gloves, a toque, socks, personal care products, a nutritional snack, and much more, adding up to almost half a million dollars’ worth of product,” said Jody Steinhauer, founder of the project, and businesswoman. “The goal has always been to provide necessities to the needy, the homeless — who for a number of reasons – remain on the streets during the extreme weather of the winter months. These kits act as a conduit for outreach workers to make a connection with those who need immediate help and to hopefully get them inside.”
Over the last 15 years, the project has distributed over 20,000 winter survival kits for the homeless. Agencies like Red Cross, Salvation Army and Covenant House receive these kits to distribute to the needy.
Though she has faced challenges over the years, the endeavour is very fulfilling for Steinhauer and her team.
“There are so many memories and inspirational moments that have happened over the past 16 years but I will never forget in 2008 when I brought together my team at the Bargains Group and told them that our largest donor had backed out due to the stock market crash. One of my newer employees said that he was currently living in a homeless shelter and he had no idea that this was the company that was responsible for building the Winter Survival Kits. He then shared with us that the kits had kept him and his buddies alive in the past winters when he was living on the streets. He told us that without these kits, people would die and that we had to find a way to keep this project going.
At that moment in time we made a commitment that for as long as these kits were needed on the streets we would somehow always figure out how to make Project Winter Survival happen,” she said.
The project always reviews feedback from agencies and clients. Steinhauer pointed out that it was a necessary part of the process.
“Every year after Project Winter Survival, I am in contact with various social service and outreach workers who distribute the Winter Survival Kits and see firsthand the impact they have. There is always an incredible outpouring of gratitude, not only from the organizations who rely on the kits to help their clients, but also from the homeless who desperately need many of the items you and I take for granted. The kits always contain brand new items and help provide a level of dignity to someone who may nothing to their name”, she said.
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