Victoria Kalisky was grocery shopping last week when, despite being bundled up against southern Quebec's brutal cold, her face was in pain.
"I realized that there were five men and women right next to me who were going to sleep in that –30 the entire night," the 23-year-old Montrealer said on Monday.
"And then the next morning, I woke up to a news article about a woman who had died."
That's when she decided it was time to help. She talked to her father, Lorne Kalisky, and started an online crowdfunding campaign on Saturday.
Lorne Kalisky has a liquidation business, and spoke to a supplier who was willing to help out. The father-and-daughter team were able to purchase about 650 winter jackets at the rock-bottom price of $25 each.
And with the online crowdfunding efforts quickly building steam, Victoria and her father loaded up a trailer and carted nearly 250 of the coats downtown to hand them out near Resilience Montreal, a non-profit day shelter at the corner of Atwater Avenue and Ste-Catherine Street.
Fundraising goal of $25K
Matthew Donohoe, who has been living in a tent for a number of years, was surprised to see the price tags were still on the coats — $250 apiece, he said.
"Not a lot of people will give just jackets and stuff," said Donohoe.
"It means quite a deal because now I can stay out and work longer. I can panhandle the cars longer than what I used to."
Donohoe said he has a propane heater in his tent to keep warm, and prefers not to stay in shelters because he finds them disgusting. He described the donation as "gracious" and said he was grateful.
Lorne Kalisky, who lives in Laval, said some of his corporate friends chipped in, responding right away to the cause and helping to raise more than $14,000 over the weekend.
Along with coats, he brought over hats, gloves, winter pants, kids' stuff and about 2,000 disposable masks. He said he will go over the balances and figure out what else he can buy, but he thinks he's spent as much as $16,000 so far and is hoping to reach the crowdfunding goal of $25,000.
"It just became a feel-good thing to do," he said. "Try to keep people out of the cold."
Kalisky admitted he has, in the past, had negative feelings toward those who panhandle for money, but after spending time in Cabot Square, he noticed "how much mental illness there is out there and how bad people really need this help."
'Jackets are a good thing'
Patrick Roussy, who is experiencing homelessness, said it is "very nice" to be helped in this way and he appreciates that people are willing to give.
He said it has been very cold, and he appreciates the jacket.
David Chapman executive director of Resilience Montreal, said that in an ideal world, everyone would be housed.
"We'd love to see that. But, at this current moment, they're not. And so in that world, that real world that we live in, emergency resources such as jackets are a very good thing," he said.
Victoria Kalisky said she lives near a homeless centre on Parc Avenue. She said handing out all those jackets on Monday, certainly felt better than being stuck inside at home during the provincewide lockdown.
"This is really a great use of that energy," said the McGill University student.
She wants to encourage others to offer a helping hand, she said..
"It feels good to reduce human suffering."