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Hundreds of volunteers packed a Dartmouth church hall Saturday to sort donations of basic necessities for about 1,000 people in need.
Now in its 14th year, the Feeding Others of Dartmouth advent backpack project involves six Catholic parishes in the Dartmouth area, gathering a cornucopia of donated goods and filling 150 backpacks that will be distributed to Margaret’s House, which works to provide hot food for those who need it, and other charities.
The donations range from basic personal-care products like soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes to warm socks, gloves, scarves, blankets and snacks.
Once the backpacks are filled, the rest of the goods will be distributed to clients of 17 other charities.
Anne James is on the organizing committee for the project, which on Saturday culminated in hundreds of people crowding into the downstairs hall at St. Clement’s Church on Gaston Road to sort the donations and prepare the backpacks.
“It started out as a very small project between Immaculate Conception and St. Peter’s Catholic churches and they had backpacks for 50,” James said while sporting a pair of felt reindeer antlers on her head. “Now, we’ll be serving well over a thousand adults in the Dartmouth and Halifax area.”
She said the generosity of those who donated benefits the “homeless or underwaged, in care, Adsum House, Single Young Mothers’ Housing, Out of the Cold, Turning Point. ... There are, I think, 18 charities that will benefit.”
The parishes involved are Immaculate Conception, St. Andrew’s, St. Clement’s, St. Paul’s, St. Anthony’s and St. Peter’s.
“We put out an announcement in November, after Remembrance Day, and we leave the (reusable grocery) bags for all the parishioners in the different parishes and they fill them,” James said. “We give them a list — they don’t have to complete the list, but if they bring certain items off that list and then they gather them and we gather here today and we will sort all the items according to toothbrushes, shaving cream, whatever, personal-care items.”
Kids ranging in age from toddlers to teens, as well as some adults, then take up the backpacks and circulate around the sorting tables, making sure each bag gets the same items. There are items for both women’s and men’s needs.
“It’s an amazing event,” James said. “It makes my Christmas, because we have kids who have grown up in this program ... and we’ve got people who are 80 and still coming and helping out and doing what they can. It’s an amazing event and it’s building community and it’s helping community, which is what we’re all about.”
Gordon MacKinnon, a deacon at the church, said the sorting day is a very important one for the Catholic community.
“People come together, it’s packed in here, it’s very crowded, but it’s absolutely wonderful to see the generosity of the people,” MacKinnon said. “And they are very generous.
“Last year, we gifted 972 people with necessities ... socks, gloves, things like that. It’s the making of Christmas, as far as I’m concerned.”
Michelle James, resplendent in a Santa hat bearing the Montreal Canadiens logo, had her six-year-old son Owen Cormier along for their first adventure with the backpack project. They are from St. Andrew’s parish in Eastern Passage.
“We always think it’s really important to try and give back to the community,” she said. “We always try to do something every year. ... We typically do the shoebox project but this year is the first year that our parish is participating in this and we thought it was a great way to kind of give back.”
The filled backpacks will go to Margaret’s House for distribution Monday.