Constable Parry Retsinas has collected more than 325 pairs of boots and 550 pairs of socks, thanks to donations by Service members and corporate donations over the last month.
Retsinas, a Divisional Policing Support Unit officer, started the boot drive last year, when she saw a homeless man, in the dead of winter, in nothing but a pair of running shoes.
“It was very cold, -10C at least, and he had a thin pair of running shoes on and that gave me the idea to start the boot drive,” said Retsinas, as she dropped off more than 150 pairs of boots at the Fred Victor Centre on Queen Street East.
People may not realize it but, come winter, boots are in high demand in shelters around Toronto. According to Peter Dyett, a program worker at Fred Victor, this time of year is critical for clothing donations.
“People can’t afford winter clothes, so it really helps out,” said Dyett, of the donations Retsinas dropped off. He added that their clothing donation room was empty at the time, with only a few women’s boots but almost none for men, until Patty arrived.
“I’m glad we got all this stuff,” he said, pointing to two huge cartons full of boots and a few bags. “We had no winter boots at all.”
In fact, shelters look for men’s boots. “We seldom get men’s boots – when they come in they’re gone instantly,” said Enza Trentadue, manager of Fred Victor’s open house drop in.
In particular, shoes are of great importance to the homeless population that visits Fred Victor, says Gomo George. “Homeless people live rough and have a lot of wear and tear on their clothing because they are walking constantly. So, having boots to keep their feet warm is really beneficial. A lot of homeless people have foot problems because of their feet getting wet and so on so, if we can keep them dry and healthy, you know, it is a benefit,” said Gomo George, a program worker at Fred Victor.
Boots are not only helpful for the homeless population but also to poorer families who can’t afford the added cost of winter garb. “Winter clothing adds a lot to their budget and, if they can forgo the cost of buying shoes, then that’s food on the table,” said George.
Other than Fred Victor, Retsinas also dropped off boots at the Queen Street West YMCA.
While the boots were off a huge benefit to the YMCA, seeing police officers bring in a donation was of even greater benefit.
Volunteer Mark Zilio, who has used the YMCA’s services when he was younger, said that “having donations come from the Toronto Police Service only helps improve the relationship between people who are in the shelter… like younger people who have some stigmatism with the police. It is really encouraging for the youth to see this. It’s positive.”
Constable Nikolaos Maicantis, a Neighbourhood Officer in the area, who helped Retsinas deliver boots, said in the past they had strained relationships with the youth at the centre but, with the commencement of the Neighbourhood Officer program, they had come a long way in striking bonds with community and building relationships with the staff and youth.
Louise Smith, general manager of YMCA Youth Services, said the boots would definitely be helpful for their community.
“They will definitely be used, and quickly. This is a surprise, a very incredible surprise and incredibly helpful.
“Thank you Patty for doing all of this,” said Smith.
Retsinas said she received boot and sock donations from Walmart in Rexdale, thanks to manager Dolly Bhattacharjee, along with socks donated by the Great Canadian Sox Company, McGregor and Heat Holders.
The donations went to Fred Victor, Fred Victor Women’s Hostel, YMCA for male youth and St. Lukes out of the Cold Program.