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Volunteers pack 3,000 kits for Project Winter Survival

KJ Mullins-Toronto: On Saturday January 12 the first step in the annual Toronto Project Winter Survival event took place with about 200 volunteers packing bags that help those living on the street stay alive during long cold nights. Those kits will be distributed next weekend to front line agencies dealing with the homeless.

For 13 years volunteers have been packed over 15,000 kits that give those in needs essential supplies that for some could make the difference between live and death. Already this year Toronto has seen deaths among those who live on the streets. With reduced funding for shelter programs it is feared that the death toll could increase this winter.

Last year over 3,000 kits were distributed to over 175 front line agencies in Toronto that work with the homeless including the Red Cross and Covenant House.

Inside the backpacks that volunteers helped put together this weekend are a sleeping bag, winter hat, scarf, gloves, socks, rain poncho and personal hygiene items. In total each kit has 32 items.

The project is one that the Toronto Police Service supports. Chief Bill Blair was one of those volunteering Saturday along with officers from 13 Division.

“I hope that those people who find themselves living on the streets will take some comfort that in knowing that people in this city care about them,” Chief Blair said during the event.

Anne Marie Batten, a street nurse for the homeless, said on a press release, “We had a record number of homeless deaths in 2012 and many shelters are full and overflowing. The kits are essential to people living on the street, such as those who have pets as a means of emotional support and cannot bring them into shelters, or couples who do not want to be separated. We also use the kits to establish relationships with homeless people who have trust issues, such as individuals with mental illnesses and substance abusers.”

On Thursday evening I encountered a young man who said despite being hungry shelters and soup kitchens are triggers for his mental health issues. The man said that he suffers from depression, Asperger’s syndrome and has HIV. He avoids crowded areas to combat his symptoms even though it means he sleeps outside during cold weather.

He’s not alone. Over the past few years many of those who I have interviewed that live on the street have their own reasons for not going to shelters. For some it’s mental health related for others dealing with bed bugs was too much to handle.

The project was founded by Bargain’s Group President Jody Steinhauer who stated that, “We will never let this project end as long as there are homeless people on the street.”

“We’re very fortunate to have a dedicated team of volunteers and sponsors donate their time to this essential cause,” says Steinhauer. “Our packing event provides an incredible opportunity for people to start the year off with a good deed. It’s also a great way for companies sponsoring the campaign to promote employee engagement, bond with their staff and get them excited about giving back.”

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