(COURTESY HERB RICE)
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Herb and Vera Rice said they have found their “little thing” to do and help during the pandemic. But when you look at the 15 bags of clothes, packed in Herb’s van and ready for delivery, describing the initiative as little seems less than accurate.
Since last spring, the retired couple has been delivering bags of clothes to different shelters for the homeless across Montreal. More than six trips to the city have been done, resulting in close to 100 bags of donations.
While they had managed to find more than enough items simply through word of mouth, this time around, Vera posted on Facebook and took the initiative even further.
“We are so isolated right now with the latest lockdown, that putting it out on Facebook made people realize that they do have the right stuff, and now they are asking us to come to pick it up,” said Vera.
Currently, more than 18 people are lined up, waiting for the couple to come pick up their used clothes. The response was beyond expectation, but not surprising for the couple who’ve regularly witnessed the community’s generosity.
“In Kahnawake, if someone is sick or lost a job, the people and neighbours will help out,” said Vera. “If a house burns down, people will do a fundraiser. This initiative is an extension of this.”
The Rice duo explained that the project came naturally to them. In the past, they always found shelters to send extra clothes; any places where it could be reused and repurposed. However, most locations that accepted donations closed their doors in 2020 – forcing the couple to look outside of Kahnawake.
In Montreal, just one bridge away from the community, the Native Women’s Shelter and Resilience Montreal were still open and accepting donations. Herb described the collaboration with both places as something very uncomplicated and straightforward.
“Sometime in October, when I dropped off clothes at the Native Women’s Shelter, they said that they also had Resilience so I went there and I asked if they needed anything,” said Herb.
One particular item kept being requested – socks!
The couple went on to raise more than $800 to buy 1,500 pairs of socks at Giant Tiger. They asked their families and friends if they wanted to contribute monetarily, challenging themself to match every $10 donated with another $10.
“Up to a maximum of $100, I must say! Which was smart to do,” added Vera, with a laugh.
The couple considers their initiative as something effortless, yet greatly rewarding. They spoke with humility about donating clothes, attributing it all to the way they were raised.
“My father would say, if you have too much of something and you see someone that doesn’t have it, you help them,” said Vera simply.
The situation of homelessness in Montreal truly became appallingly worse once COVID-19 hit, a fact that deeply touches the couple. Vera explained that, as someone who lives in Kahnawake, you can’t ignore the fact that most people in the streets are Onkwehón:we.
“We are all sitting in our little house and you feel like you wanna be useful and do something,” she said. “It’s too cold to go walk your dog, but people are still out there.”
With two months left of winter, the Rices will continue to search for warm clothes and sleeping bags, picking up donations and making it easy for everyone to contribute.