Through our Waterloo Windows: Lifting Spirits and Keeping Communities Together

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With nowhere to isolate, the homeless population is at increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

Nathan Lee from UW, along with Jack Tomé, Alex Mastromarini, Gabriel Mancuso, and James Neale from the University of Western Ontario, co-founded #TheBasketProject to help protect homeless youth in Toronto against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

“After [the] Canadian government [asked people to] ‘stay home.’ I realized that the homeless couldn’t quarantine if they had no home,” Lee said.  

The students have taken it upon themselves to create and distribute baskets around the Toronto area, which contain necessities such as a surgical mask, latex gloves, sanitary wipes, soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a pair of socks.

“For those that had none to begin with, nothing was done. In short, those that were neglected before were being neglected even more now,” Lee said.

The reasons for homelessness range from extreme poverty to mental illness to the inability to find affordable housing. Not only are those issues exacerbated during the COVID-19 crisis due to pre-existing conditions, but people experiencing homelessness are also at a higher risk of contracting the virus. 

Many social and community services are closed, and people experiencing homelessness are either left outside wholly exposed without somewhere to self-isolate, or are being forced to use shelters – an environment perfect for the spread of the virus.

Lee explained that the team first looked within the community for opportunities to help, but after realizing that government-run assistance programs only benefited those with a source of income or permanent address, opted to create their own initiative to help some of the city’s most vulnerable.

A GoFundMe page set up for the project raised $4,500 within the first week and has surpassed the co-founders’ expectations. For reference, a basket costs just under $10.

“When we first sat down as a team, we were determined to give back to our community in our own small way, so we set a very conservative goal. In less than 48 hours, we raised $2,500, and the donations continued to pour in. Never in our wildest dreams did we think we could mobilize the community so quickly,” Tomé said. “We are so grateful for all the support and are inspired to raise additional funds in the next phase to continue our support of Toronto’s homeless youth.” 

#TheBasketProject is hoping to distribute 1,000 baskets to 1,000 people by the end of the summer. As of May 05, 2020, 100 baskets had already been donated to Good Shepherd Ministries, and 300 more are set to be delivered to Covenant House this week. 

The group of student volunteers has put no money into advertising this project, and they have no corporate financial sponsorship. The initiative is running solely on donations from their GoFundMe page, and any excess contributions will be donated to poverty relief at the end of summer. 

#TheBasketProject is helping a group of individuals who are often overlooked and bring awareness to the issues surrounding homelessness; Issues that are present not only during this pandemic but also extending beyond COVID-19. They are asking any readers who would like to help to take a few minutes to spread the message and consider making a small donation. 

You can visit www.thebasketproject.org and @thebasketproject to learn more, find the link to donate or to help spread awareness about the project. 

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