A group of young people came face-to-face with homelessness, donating their time, alongside officers, to hand out warm items before Christmas.
“Thank you and God bless,” said Joanne, as she walked away with a brand new pair of gloves.
Joanne, who lives in a shelter, was given the gloves from 12-year-old Gavin Loria, who was among the half-dozen youth who gave out items in and around shelters downtown, alongside Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy and Divisional Policing Support Unit officers.
Constable Patty Retsinas organized the trip with the teens and pre-teens to expose them to the issue of homelessness.
“I wanted youth outside the city, who aren’t exposed to homeless people, to appreciate how important it is for them to contribute to society and volunteer their time and donate,” said the Divisional Policing Support Unit officer.
Loria was initially reluctant to volunteer but was amazed by the impact it made on those receiving the gifts.
“I was kind of nervous about the people but, then, as soon as I gave it up to one person and I saw they were happy about it, I was less nervous and I kept going. It made me feel good,” he said, of the many people he encountered that were living in shelters that warmly greeted the young people.
Alyssa Gil, 14, was surprised by the number of people needing help.
“I didn’t realize there were so many people who needed them... I was happy to give back,” said the high school student.
Steven, who got himself a pair of purple socks and matching scarf, said he needed the warm items as winter sets in.
“I live in a shelter right now and everything I get is very helpful to me… it is great the police are handing them out with the children.”
Unlike Steven who needed socks, Blue was in better circumstances and is currently looking for transitional housing. Having once worked for a homeless outreach program, he understood the need to hand out such items during the winter time.
“I used to be a volunteer for an out-of-cold program and, if you find the right people who need it, it works,” he said. “It builds up confidence for people in lower situations when perfect strangers help them out. It gives them a little perk.”
Retsinas has organized a boot drive for the last three years and saw an opportunity to give something new, with the help of sponsors.
“People wear the same pair of socks for the entire season. This is something they need.”
Beth Shalom synagogue donated over 500 items including hats, gloves and scarves. Over 1,000 pairs of socks were donated by Heat Holders, McGregor Socks and Great Canadian Sox.
The items that weren’t handed out directly to those on the street were donated to the Fred Victor Centre and downtown shelters.