Life

The blanket project that grew

Emily Distefano

Carman-area residents are making a habit of helping the homeless in whatever way they can. Above, children sort through items of warm clothing brought from Carman to Winnipeg last October. (GAYLENE DUECK/FOR CARMAN VALLEY LEADER)

Carman-area residents are making a habit of helping the homeless in whatever way they can. Above, children sort through items of warm clothing brought from Carman to Winnipeg last October. (GAYLENE DUECK/FOR CARMAN VALLEY LEADER)

CARMAN - A child’s heart for those in need has inspired his community to reach out to those who are most vulnerable in our province.
Jaron Johnston started his blanket drive in 2013 after a particularly bad storm made the kindergartner question how people who have no homes kept warm in cold weather.
With what his mother calls childlike faith, he saw a solution immediately – why not give people the spare blankets from their own closet?
His idea grew into a community collection of at least twenty blankets.
Helped by his family - parents Craig and Coreen Johnston and big sister Kiera Johnston - as well as his church congregation and school, he quickly amassed over 100 comforters, quilts, flannels and throws.
The Carman Pentecostal Assembly connected with Siloam Mission and Devoted to You Ministries in Winnipeg to help them distribute the blankets – and when they saw the need in the area, they couldn’t look away again.

REALITY OF HOMELESSNESS
In Southern Manitoba we are not often faced with the reality of homelessness – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect our own communities, Carman Pentecostal Assembly member Gaylene Dueck noted.
“Where are the homeless of Carman? Most of them are in Winnipeg, as it is a common trend for those from rural areas to migrate to larger cities with better housing, services, employment and education opportunities, and more anonymity for those seeking help,” she said. “This [initiative] is an extension of the care and concern that people of this area already show for those in our local community who are in need.”
Jaron is still collecting blankets, but it is just one part of what has become a joyful ministry for the Carman Pentecostal Church, the Graysville Mennonite Church, and other Carman-area community members.
This past October, around 50 such residents descended on Old Market Square in Winnipeg with trucks and trailers full of blankets, clothing, winter outerwear, sleeping bags, food and water. They distributed several hundred backpacks filled with personal hygiene items, water and snacks.
And that was just the people who could make it on that day - Dueck estimates that over a hundred people were involved in making sandwiches and cookies ahead of time, as well as collecting donations.

TEACHING EMPATHY 
“Entire families participated, reinforcing the idea of altruism to their children by directly involving them in the preparation and/or the delivery of the goods,” she said.
“It kind of chokes me up to see how it just takes one person to get the ball rolling,” said Coreen, who now keeps a shoebox in her grade 4 Carman Elementary School classroom, which her eager students fill with items like hotel shampoos. “It’s neat because we never planned for it to grow into something more.
“And it’s not just our church. To me, it’s a community thing. To me, it’s teaching people, at a young age, to think about others. To not just see needs, but do something about them.”
Coreen says that Jaron is a boy of few words, but deep feelings.
When I interviewed him for this article, he pondered each one before answering, until I asked what the homeless people he has met are like.
Then his answer was swift, simple - and profound: “They’re normal,” he said.
What else would they be?
“So often the perception is that they have some sort of addiction or are lazy,” said Coreen. “But they are people just like us. It’s not up to us to judge or determine why they are in their circumstances.”
Anyone who wants to donate items, help distribute items or get involved in any other way is more than welcome.
The Carman Pentecostal Assembly is currently collecting blankets, warm mittens (not knit), boots, and Tim Horton’s gift cards to keep the homeless warm during the winter season.
Contact Carman Pentecostal Assembly at (204) 745-3787 for more information. 

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emily.distefano@sunmedia.ca