In April 2020, University of Waterloo civil engineering student Nathan Lee and a group of friends from Western University in London, Ont. founded The Basket Project (TBP), an initiative to safeguard Canadians experiencing homelessness during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Seeing that social and community support centres were closed, TBP’s founders — Lee, along with Alex Mastromarini, Gabriel Mancuso, Jack Tomé and James Neale from Western — began distributing baskets containing essential personal protective equipment (PPE) and hygiene items to homeless youth throughout Toronto.
Just over one year later, TBP is a provincially registered non-profit organization, with established divisions in five Canadian cities. As TBP has grown, the founders, along with a team of volunteers and partnering organizations, have continued to carry out their mission to protect the vulnerable during these unprecedented times.
Here’s the timeline of events since TBP’s founding:
In April, a group of UW and Western students co-founded TBP with a goal of raising $1,000 to prepare and distribute 100 baskets to homeless youth in Toronto. Their initiative saw an immediate positive response. As a result, the student founders increased their initial goal from $1,000 to $5,000, which they met in under a week, prompting them to set a new goal of $10,000 for the summer.
On Mother’s Day, TBP distributed 300 baskets to homeless youth across Toronto to support them in the wake of COVID-19.
Later that month, the organization announced a “new clothing-based basket” and “Share One = Give One” initiative. For every repost of the “Share one = Give One” post, TBP would donate a basket to one of three charitable organizations. These organizations included Light Patrol, a job and training support program center for homeless youth; Street Health Overdose Prevention Site (OPS), an overdose prevention, intervention and nursing site; and Given Values, a center that provides emergency food hampers, personal hygiene products, and coats for at-risk children and youth.
On June 6, 2020, TBP announced its first expansion with a second division opening in Hamilton, Ont. TBP was then featured on the Starts With Y podcast, and appeared on CP24 Breakfast, giving the founders more opportunities to raise awareness for their cause. TBP also got a shoutout by Tim & Friends on Sportsnet, and the organization was featured on the front page of the Guardian Etobicoke. By the end of the month, TBP had announced the opening of a third division, this time in Oshawa, Ont.
TBP became a provincially recognized non-profit organization on July 1, 2020, and announced a new goal to become a federally recognized charity. Shortly thereafter, TBP was featured in an issue of the Globe and Mail, the country’s largest newspaper.
Additionally, TBP released its first apparel and accessory collection, from which 100 per cent of all proceeds would go toward the baskets.
The founders also announced that they were shifting the charity’s scope to include homeless children under five years of age, explaining how many homeless children face difficulties such as “chronic health problems, developmental impairments, learning disabilities and poor mental health.” This objective was supported by Women’s Habitat, a shelter for women escaping domestic abuse in Toronto, where TBP expanded their donations to include essential baby products and sanitary pads.
TBP continued to work with other organizations too, including two in Oshawa — the First Light Foundation of Hope, a charity that assists people experiencing poverty, and Cornerstone Oshawa, a housing and support emergency center for individuals and families.
Towards the end of the summer, the organization was featured in an article on the Western News website and a post on their Instagram page.
In September, the TBP team established another division, located in London, Ont., to expand their reach and further combat homelessness during COVID-19, and gained more news coverage, such as an article published by DurhamRegion.com.
Throughout the fall, TBP developed more relationships with charitable organizations, including a partnership with Impact Everyone, an organization that works to find solutions to local and global issues, to deliver new winter baskets. For every repost of the Impact Everyone announcement, the two organizations pledged $0.25 toward the winter basket initiative.
At the end of the year, TBP and Impact Everyone launched an interview series to increase awareness about the struggles of homelessness by sharing stories of Toronto’s houseless community.
In January, TBP launched a fifth division in Victoria, B.C., through the help of an alumnus of their high school, Izzy Thomfid. Thomfid reached out after realizing that many of the items needed in the local shelters in Victoria overlapped with TBP’s common basket items.
In partnership with Our Place in Society, a community center that works to protect the vulnerable, the Victoria division assisted five people with their shift into permanent housing. After thorough research, the TBP Victoria team provided each person with a set of two baskets, including essential kitchen and bathroom items catered to match their needs.
TBP was featured in the Toronto Star, a Canadian newspaper and the country’s largest online news site, and the TBP team was also invited by the IMI Business Association (IBA) and University of Toronto professors to speak about their initiative.
On April 18, 2021, TBP celebrated its one-year anniversary, thanking everyone for their support with posts on social media. Over its first year, TBP raised more than $25,000 dollars and delivered more than 1,000 baskets for those in need.
The organization now has five divisions across the country and it’s still growing — the team recently hired several part-time summer interns who will help operate the initiative over the summer.
As TBP’s mission to combat homelessness and protect vulnerable Canadians still continues, the team is looking for more people to join the cause. In an Instagram post, they stated that if anyone is interested in helping or starting their own division of TBP, they can reach out by directly messaging the organization via Instagram.