Ever visit a downtown pub or restaurant and ask for a glass of water?
Ever attempt to tap a public drinking fountain?
Such is the way for the hundreds of Toronto homeless who battle the elements all year long — the bitter winters and humid, stifling summers.
Just as welcome as a warm bowl of soup in February is a bottle of water in the sun-soaked days of summer.
And that’s the mandate of the philanthropic folks at a clothing wholesaler that’s kicked-off its annual effort to collect donated water and distribute it among the thirsty homeless.
Called Project Water, the volunteer initiative is geared to supply about 80 agencies across the GTA with bottled H2O so they in turn can offer a drink to the homeless, most of whom sweat it out under pollution-choked skies those more fortunate are able to avoid.
With close to 30 heat alerts issued in Toronto last summer, and three heat alerts and one heat emergency issued this summer already, Project Water is vital to help the homeless stay out of hospital, organizer Jody Steinhauer said.
"People don’t realize it, but more people die of dehydration than they do freezing to death," said Steinhauer, president of the Bargains Group, a North York clothing wholesaler.
Project Water, which kicked off July 24, saw more than 10,000 bottles of water from the Ice River Springs Water Company, Brick Brewing Company and CJC Bottling handed over to a number of agencies, including Anishnawbe and the Sherbourne Health Bus.
Remco has donated shipping services and the Bargains Group is donating its staff to help with collection and distribution.
Project Water was launched four years ago in response to requests made from health officials and Toronto’s homeless community.
So far, Project Water has distributed 500,000 donated bottles of water to area agencies.
This year, officials are issuing a plea for donations of bottled water, beverages, re-usable water bottles or cash donations, which can be made by calling the water line at 416-785-5655 or e-mailing Bargains Group.
Steinhauer said members of the public can drop off bottled water at its warehouse at 890 Caledonia Rd. (West of Dufferin St., east of Keele and south of Lawrence Ave.)
Cash donations can be used by the Bargains Group to purchase water from local water companies at a deep discount.
Steinhauer has also heard from other distributors who’ve offered other beverages including juice.
"I know it’s called Project Water, but hydration is hydration. If there are beverage companies out there who want to help, we’d love to hear from them too," said Steinhauer, adding that so far, donations so far this year are down from last year.
All the water will be distributed to outreach workers for distribution first, she added.
"We work from a list of agencies that get out into the parks and actually visit the homeless who are out there," she said.
"We’re not going to give water to the drop-in centres where people come in to have a shower and play cards, they can get a drink at places like that," she said.
"If we have enough water to go to places like that, great."
The company also held a similar drive to benefit the homeless in the winter. The Bargains Group used its clout in the wholesaling businesses to work with the charity, Hockey for the Homeless, which collected thousands of dollars. The company assembled "survival kits," made up of a sleeping bag, socks and other items, that were distributed to agencies that work with the homeless.
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