News / Edmonton

'These are emergency situations': Boyle Street in dire need of warm clothing donations

Inner-city agencies drop-in co-ordinator says donations are down from last year, while #Bundleupyeg campaign works to fill the need

File / Toronto Star Staff

Winter clothing donations are down “at least 50 per cent” at Boyle Street versus the first snowfall last year, according to the organization’s drop-in and volunteer co-ordinator.

“I’ve never had a donation room before that looked clean before like this,” Jouni Kaikkonen said. “It’s quite organized, because there’s almost nothing in it.”

He said the centre is filled with more than 80 people at any given moment who don’t have weather-appropriate clothing of any kind.

As one of nine staff members at the drop-in, he said dozens of community members had personally asked him for warm clothing items between 8 a.m. and mid-afternoon Wednesday.

“I’ve been asked probably 35 to 40 times for articles we simply don’t have,” he said.

“These are emergency situations. A lady is asking for shoes and socks because they’re soaked from the snow outside and I have nothing for her.”

When Boyle Street doesn’t have what a community member is looking for, Kaikkonen will refer them to the Bissell Centre’s Community Closet or the Mustard Seed’s PAC Centre, the latter of which is only open a few hours a week.

Some of the most-needed items this time of year are socks, shoes, pants, winter coats, mitts, gloves, tuques and scarves, he said.

Efforts are underway to fill the need.

Nearly 100 University of Alberta dentistry students gathered at the Butterdome during lunch hour Wednesday for a “sock fight,” during which they celebrated raising 4,000 socks for the Boyle McCauley Health Centre by throwing them at each other in a dodge-ball style tournament.

Third-year dentistry student Travis MacLean said the third annual event has become something students look forward to as a way to let off steam from midterms while doing something positive for the community.

“Most of these homeless people, they’re walking around all day. Their shoes get worn out, a lot of them may or may not have socks and if they do they’re worn out, and it’s getting cold,” MacLean said.

The #Bundleupyeg campaign also kicked off Wednesday, and its founder Jasmine Topham aims to donate hundreds of bags of warm clothes to local shelters including like Bissell Centre, Hope Mission, Boyle Street and the Mustard Seed.

Topham informally started the campaign in 2014 when she collected 40 bags on her own, and last year a team of four volunteers delivered 510.

This year, she’s tripled her volunteer team to beat that number.

“A lot of people don’t know where to go, or they might be nervous about going to the actual shelters themselves, or they might not have capacity time-wise to actually get it from their house to the shelter,” Topham said.

“So I felt that if there was a service that eliminated that barrier, where we could actually go and pick it up for people and drive it to the doors of the homeless shelters, it would just sort of help with that gap. And I think that’s what really resonates with people.”

Pickups can be arranged through the campaign's social media accounts or by e-mailing bundleupyeg@gmail.com

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