This past weekend I took part in my very first Blanketing Toronto event.
Full disclosure before I begin: the founder of this event, Laura Banfield, is a good friend of mine. I always knew she was a down to earth, sweet person, but seeing this amazing event unfold first hand made me realize all the more just how giving she is.
On January 4th, a group of volunteers walked from shelter to shelter in downtown Toronto, handing out everything from food to clothes to essentials packages (toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, soap). All organized by Laura!
I can’t imagine the amount of time and effort it takes to put something like this together.
Q&A with Blanketing Toronto founder Laura Banfield
How did Blanketing Toronto come to be?
Growing up in Markham I was always excited to venture out to the city of Toronto with my dad when he would invite me to come out with him while he ran business errands. I enjoyed seeing the busy streets and tall structures as it revealed a different world to me compared to the quiet lifestyle in Markham. The idea for Blanketing Toronto had always been in my heart since I first spotted an individual in need on the street. It just took some time for me to make the commitment to a vision such as fighting to end homelessness.
What kind of donations do you need that people might not think of?
Blanketing Toronto accepts anything that provides warmth, is in fair to excellent condition and is washed prior to donating. Examples include:
- children’s clothing
I like to invite donators to think if they were on the streets with no home or job, what would they think would serve their needs best and donate that.
Can you give me some numbers?
Last year we had most of our donations arrive the day of so it was difficult to calculate numbers based on items of materials. However regarding the mass quantity of garbage bags filled with donations, we were blessed to receive 52 bags filled.
We made 78 care packages and 211 sandwiches; each care package contained a roll of socks, tooth brush, some tooth paste and a bar of soap and the sandwiches were a mixed variety of cheese only, ham, salami and bologna.
This year, we made 120 care packages and 220 sandwiches beating last year’s numbers; the numbers for donations are being calculated however it is safe to say we have beat last year’s numbers by far as we packed a 16 foot Budget truck with boxes and bags of donations compared to our 3 vehicles packed last year.
What is the most memorable reaction you have gotten from someone
Everyone I personally donate to or watch my fellow volunteers donate to adds to a collection of wonderful memories, energizing me to continue pushing through the day in order to reach out to more and more in need. However, each year there is always that one person who kindles my heart and validates the determination I have to resurface and save humanity.
Blanketing Toronto had 2 volunteers feel completely enthralled to donate the jackets off their back because of a compliment given to these gentlemen by a homeless individual who communicated interest in their coats.
Last year, I had one individual shout out “…and it’s real cheese, I haven’t had real cheese in a long time!”
The things we take for granted are made aware quickly by those who know the value of these materials we aim to provide to them. I can’t remember the last time I thought about the type of cheese I was eating.
This year my team encountered an individual who came out of a shelter wearing sandals inquiring about a pair of shoes; my team and I tried so hard to find him a fit however we did not have his size and that is one of the hardest things we face is having to say “I’m sorry we don’t have it.”
For me, the most memorable experience this year was visiting an orphanage and while it was quiet inside I spun around as I heard the pitter patter of feet behind me only to see a boy barely the age of my eldest niece who is 4 years old running across the hall… I confirmed with the supervisor whether diapers would be needed for donation as we had 3 packs in the truck and she told me “yes, diapers are huge as [they] have many babies…”
How does it make you feel when you hand everything out?
The feeling one receives when handing out a sandwich, care package, blanket and/coat or other warm material to someone in need is a gift like no other. The experience provides that feeling and there are no words to describe it.
For me, the days’ event is so fast paced and busy. I am able to feel it in the smiles from those I hand donations to; their smiles tell a story which is always different than the next person’s and for those few seconds of interaction I get with them, it just inspires me to continue what I’m doing reaching out to as many as I can, even if it’s only 1/100.
This was the first time I participated in an event like this. It was heartbreaking at times. There was one man who kept saying “God bless all of you. Thank you, thank you”. And many would beg for more than one sandwich. “Can I have another one? I’ll be hungry later”. It was a big wake up call of all the things we take for granted.
Blanketing Toronto takes place the first weekend of January. Don’t forget that after all the holiday hoopla, people are still out there, fighting to survive.
To donate or get involved, please contact Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org
A special thank you to my run buddies Mike, Mary-Lou and Debby for donating to the cause.