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Toronto’s Project Water: The story of a bottle of water. Bargains Group Canada

KJ Mullins-Toronto: The businessman doesn’t notice the elderly woman dressed in three layers of clothing sitting against the storefront wall as he rushes in to buy a bottle of water. It’s going to be a long day and he’s hot.

After taking a drink he rushes to the corner where he parked his car. He does notice the homeless kid on the corner putting water into a dog bowl and shakes his head wondering how a bum like that could have a pet. He waves to his neighbour as she jogs past him before getting into his car.

The woman waves back and continues talking on her phone telling her friend that she has to find a new park to jog in, there’s too many homeless sleeping in the one she uses now. She bumps into a woman with a shopping cart. She didn’t notice the two homeless people sitting on the cement as she enters her condo’s lobby.

The woman she bumped into smiles as she sees Bobby and his dog Spike. Walking over to them her hand goes into the bag pulling out two bottles of water. She knows Bobby will only drink his if Spike has one. Bobby’s parents threw him out when he came out. He is waiting for his spot in a housing program but until then he sleeps in youth shelters. After making sure Bobby is fine the woman goes on to check on Ruth.

Ruth is in her 60s but has the mind of a young child. She was recently evicted from her city housing and spends most of her days sitting in the same spot. She wears her entire wardrobe every day. When you have no home you have no dresser to store your clothes. Ruth smiles up at her friend who brings her water during the week and checks up on her.

After checking on Ruth the woman heads out to the park where many of the city’s homeless stay during hot summer days to hand out water. She knows that the water her agency received from Project Water may save a life today.

While the names aren’t real this story plays out in Toronto every day. The city’s front line workers who help the homeless rely on Project Water, a program that was started 14 years ago by the owner of the Bargain’s Group.

On Tuesday 170 agencies in Toronto received cases of water that they will provide throughout the summer to their clients.

Mother of two, Jody Steinhauer is the President of The Bargain’s Group. She founded Project Water in 2000 to address the serious health concern affecting those living on the streets of Toronto – dehydration. Project Water has distributed over 1.5 million bottles of water into the hands of the homeless in Toronto and surrounding areas through 170+ relief organizations and homeless shelters. She, along with her staff, work countless hours to make their initiative work.

Teaming with Nestle Waters Canada for the past six years Project Water has helped to change lives for the city’s homeless.

“Bottled water is the best antidote to dehydration for all human beings and plays a key role in the continuing health and wellness of those who do not have access to portable water because they are homeless, explained John Zupo, President, Nestle Waters Canada. “Project Water is a remarkable initiative and it means a lot to be associated with this cause.”

While Tuesday’s Project Water distribution event takes place only once a year it takes months of planning. This year for the first time agencies also were given summer survival kits with the bottled water. Kits will include sunscreen; a hat; reusable water bottles; first aid kit; hand sanitizer; a nutritional snack; a poncho; a cinch bag; and a hand towel. For the homeless with pet companions, there will be an addition of Off Leash pet treats, provided by Buddy’s Kitchen, a manufacturer of food for pets, whose involvement emphasizes the importance that animal companions of the homeless deserve the same basic essential needs as humans.

“With support from over 170 front-line social service homeless shelters and outreach organizations such as The Canadian Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and The Scott Mission; Project Water should be an astounding success that will engage and make change in the lives of the homeless community of Toronto,” said Project Water founder and president—Jody Steinhauer.

Street Health crisis nurse Anne Marie Batten said that the water handed out today “absolutely saves lives. The homeless have very limited access to water. Without Project Water I don’t know what we would do.”

On Monday a storm drenched Toronto flooding many buildings including The Bargain’s Group. Employees worked into the wee hours to make sure that Project Water would go on despite the storm. The following photo essay shows the amazing work from over 200 volunteers that took place so that those in need will have water this summer.

To view the photo essay, click here.