15 years ago I was a single mother working two jobs trying very hard to make ends meet. I was fortunate that my then estranged husband (who is not my not estranged husband) was very generous with our son. He ensured that Gabe wanted for nothing. He went well above and beyond what he was legally required to do in terms of legal financial support. I knew that I was lucky.
At that time I was working as a literacy tutor (I taught adults how to read and write and do math, basically I taught some them life skills), my other job was a temporary part time job counselling battered women. Both of those jobs made me very thankful for my level of education, and for the opportunities that I had over the years received. This was also the time when Mike Harris (or as I call him that arrogant bast*rd) took office in Ontario. He decided that welfare was a strain on our society, and would cut it nearly in half. This is all very well and good if you share the sentiment that welfare recipients are bleeding us good working folk dry. So many misinformed individuals feel like those living on welfare are living the high life... you my friends are grossly misinformed. The majority of my literacy clients were social assistance recipients. They showed me their pay stubs, wanting to learn how to budget that small amount of money. I assure you, knowing what they made, they do not live high on the hog. You probably spend more on coffee and entertainment in a month than those people were given to live off in a month. I went into houses that had poured cement floors and plywood walls. One house had three little children living there, and there were rat holes in the walls. These children through no fault of their own had nothing. They went to school ill dressed, because the "winter clothing allowance" for all three children was enough to perhaps purchase a new outfit for one child, not including winter boots and hats. It broke my heart. I went home to my little boy who wore a brand name snowsuit because his father and I felt that it was the warmest. Gabe had good warm boots, nice warm hat and mittens. All that I could think of was "There but for the grace of God go I".
That was the year that two friends and I began to gather used winter clothing. I could no longer sit back in ignorance, now that my job had opened my eyes to the plight of so many around me. I contacted Sears Canada, and they donated dozens of beautiful warm winter clothing. That was our founding of Please Keep Me Warm This Winter. Those first few years were tough, because we did not have charitable status, would could accept no money. We had children come in in the freezing cold wearing jean jackets and running shoes. If we did not have clothing for them, we had to watch them leave wearing a jean jacket and running shoes, out into the freezing cold winter. It broke my heart. In 2004 we became a registered charity. I would not have to see children coming in cold and leaving cold again ( well they did, but they would only be cold for a day or so instead of for the entire winter). Now if I did not have clothing that would fit them, I could go out and buy it.
Over the years things have changed. I am no longer a single mother. I now have 4 children. My friends that helped me to found this wonderful charity are no longer involved (one moved away and one got a full time job and no longer had the time to spare). We also no longer receive snowsuit donation from Sears Canada. Now that we are a charitable organization I can issue tax receipts.
My life has changed over those 15 years, but my philosophy for the charity has remained the same. Allow parents to cloth their children in warm winter clothing at no cost, but allow them to maintain their dignity. We all fall on hard times now and again, even if it doesn't say so on paper. I don't ask for identification, or proof of income, to me that is degrading. If my husband makes $1000, 00.00 a year, but has a drinking and gambling problem, then on paper we have $1000,00.00, but in reality we might have $50.00 for the month.
This year's Snowsuit Exchange will be Saturday, November 10 (that's this Saturday). Every year there is a family that makes it all worth while. Every year I am made to feel so thankful for what I have. I have my "exchange" on one day, but I receive phone calls all winter long. I now get phone calls from social workers who are trying to help out their clients. I get phone calls from all around looking for help.
If you would like to keep a child warm this winter, and would like to receive a charitable receipt to put towards your income tax, here's what you can do....
Make all cheques payable to
Please Keep Me Warm This Winter
You can send it to box 916, Tweed, Ontario, K0K 3J0. Please make sure that you include your mailing address so that I can send you back a thank you card and tax receipt.
It makes a great Christmas gift for those hard to buy for individuals. You are giving the gift of warmth.