Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) students Kevin Appiah and Hilda Idegwu didn’t mind giving up some of their free time on Saturday to help those in need.
They were among nearly 130 volunteers who joined forces on January 17 to pack winter survival kits for the homeless across the Greater Toronto Area and its environs.
“I have a passion for helping people,” said Idegwu, a Grade 12 student at Madonna Catholic Secondary School. “This is a great opportunity for me to do my part in giving back to the community and to those who desperately are in need during the cold winter months.”
Appiah, a Grade 10 student at Runnymede Collegiate Institute, agreed.
“This is my first assignment as a YIPI and one of the reasons why I joined was to get out into the community and volunteer,” he said. “I love helping people and am so happy to be here.”
A total of 12 YIPI students assigned to 11, 12 and 13 Divisions helped pack kits.
“The YIPIs have done such an incredible job,” said Superintendent Scott Baptist, 13 Division unit commander. “It’s so great to see them coming out and taking part in something that’s helping people beyond the police service. This is actually making a difference for people living on the street. By helping fill these bags, they are the hands that are making things change and that’s so critical.”
Auxiliary and uniformed officers also took part in packing winter survival kits containing sleeping bags, blankets, winter hats, toiletries, bottled water and healthy snacks.
This is the fifth year that 13 Division has participated in the exercise.
“The great thing about a day like today is that it’s tangible,” said Toronto Raptors TV announcer Matt Devlin, part of the volunteer corps. “You can see the items going into a bag and then out of the door to help lives on the street. Based on what has transpired over the course of the last three weeks when lives were lost, what we are doing here is very important.”
Global TV chief meteorologist Anthony Farnell attended the event and spoke about the cold weather.
“This winter, January so far, has been colder than last winter,” he said. “Maybe we don’t feel it because we are not outside all the time… When I am talking on TV about how to dress appropriately for a minus 20, minus 30 wind chill, I am talking to people watching me on TV.
“So you don’t obviously have that option if you are on the street of having the three or four layers, the two gloves and heated socks that many of us often put on. With a minus 20 or 30 wind chill that we have hit about seven or eight nights so far this month, your skin freezes in about five or six minutes time and that’s exposed skin.”
Farnell predicts February will be an extremely cold month.
“It’s not exactly what you want to hear,” he added. “It makes this entire thing we are doing here today all the more relevant because we are going to get these bags out to the street today and, in the next couple of days, so that the people that need them the most will get them…There’s a lot more cold ahead…One of the things about cold is that you maybe don’t feel it initially and a lot of people can survive a few days out on the street with this cold. But it compounds and it’s tough on your body and, as days and months go on, it ages you and your body is working harder and harder to keep that temperature in your body at 36 or 37 degrees. As the winter progresses, it so important to get these people off the street and, at least, if they are going to be out there, we should ensure that they are prepared.”
Jody Steinhauer, the founder and chief bargains officer of Bargains, started Project Winter Survival in November 1998.
She said that nobody should be homeless, particularly during the cold winter months.
“Sixteen years ago, we realized there was a need,” Steinhauer said. “People needed stuff and agencies, which are the real champions right here, couldn’t afford it because they didn’t have the budgets to do it. As a concerned business person and entrepreneur, I got a bunch of friends together and said ‘what can we do about this’… There are a lot of reasons why people don’t want to go into shelters. That’s not what this is about. This is a Band-Aid solution and I don’t want to do this next year. We need long-term housing for these people. I have friends who are homeless right now. We need housing and this project needs to be put out of business.”
In its inaugural year, volunteers packed 100 kits for a few agencies to hand out to homeless people on the street. This year, 3,000 kits were supplied to nearly 160 agencies.