BROCKVILLE — Saturday marked the final distribution day for the Brockville Kinsmen Snowsuit Drive, a partnership with the Family and Children’s Services of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville that has happened for 32 years.
From 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., families could pick up a new or gently used snowsuits and other winter clothing items at the Pier Church on Chelsea Street in Brockville.
Kinsmen club president Steve Benoit thanked people for their generosity over the past month.
“The community has rallied. We’ve never seen more monetary donations come in so this year. It’s an amazing positive success from that standpoint,” said Benoit.
The drive netted over 1,000 snowsuits, along with hats, mitts and winter boots.
However, the club did notice demand was down this year over previous years.
“This year is unique. We’re seeing high donations, but on the other side the demand is half of what it is at this point,” Benoit said.
“We’ve only given away a couple hundred snowsuits and normally we’re double that.”
Benoit noted that 240 snowsuits had been handed out from the three distribution events, and over the rest of the winter they will give away another 200 to 300 more.
“We’re always fighting with the weather. It was warm in November, at the beginning of the month I was wearing shorts so people weren’t thinking about snowsuits,” Benoit said.
“Then the COVID of course, and there a couple other things that are having a unique impact this year.”
Family and Children’s Services volunteer coordinator Steve Orr agreed.
“I don’t think we can put our finger on it,” Orr said.
“The need hasn’t changed. It would be nice to think that there wasn’t a need for snowsuits, and I can’t think of any reason why that would change, other than people maybe a little bit fearful of coming in COVID and the pandemic process.”
The Canada Emergency Response Benefit could have helped families’ buy winter clothing this year both men mentioned, but other underlying issues remain.
“When you look at what creates the need (for snowsuits), I still think there is significant problems with housing and a need for higher wages for people working,” Orr said. “Those are still structurally the same issues whether you have money to pay for your own snowsuit or good adequate housing, good mental health, and health issues; generally speaking those things haven’t changed for people. If anything they maybe worse this year – worse off because of COVID,” he added.
“So we’re a little bit concerned about making sure families get snowsuits and we’ll offer snowsuits throughout the winter. I’d like to think the need is reduced but I don’t think so.”
Debbie Vanasseldonk, a primary school teacher at Westminster School in Brockville, picked up snowsuits for some of her students.
“This family does not have much and the children are coming to school without proper clothing,” she said.
“I picked up four. Three for the family and an extra just in case there’s another child in my class or in the school that is in need,” Vanasseldonk said.
“We have a lot of families and children in our communities that are in need and so it’s super important that we can come and get proper clothing. I’m super grateful that there’s a club that is doing this for our community.”
Benoit said even though the monthly drive had concluded, it is actually a year-round drive for the club.
“This drive goes on all winter long so we’re giving away snowsuits over the cold months,” Benoit said. “Over the summertime we’re starting to order more. It’s a 12 month kind of endeavour for our club.”
“If there are snowsuits that don’t come in, the sizes that we need, we’ll go out and purchase those. We’ve got quite the supply chain and a process that we’ve worked out over these many decades to do this.”
Families are encouraged to reach out if they are looking for winter gear.
“They can contact Family and Children’s Services of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville and leave a message and we’ll get you a snowsuit,” said Orr.
“We also provide snowsuits in Lanark Highlands and Smiths Falls, Carleton Place, Perth area as well.”
Benoit says he’s happy for the families helped so far.
“You know they are warm for the winter and you see a lot of kids smiling and they had a lot of fun,” he said.
Family and Children’s Services of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville can be reached at 613-498-2100 or toll free at 1-855-667-2726.
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