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Awesome Profile: Operation Warm Feet

Editor’s note:

For the past five years, the Awesome Kingston Foundation has worked behind the scenes with some of the city’s most innovative and exciting individuals and organizations to advance their ‘awesome’ projects. For 10 months of the year, Awesome Kingston allows those locally with projects that could benefit from support and funding to apply for an Awesome Kingston micro-grant. Made up of 10 trustees (one of whom serves as the dean), Awesome Kingston offers a $1,000 no-strings-attached grant to the most awesome project presented at their monthly pitch parties – each trustee donates $100 from their own pocket to make up the $1,000 grant. The scope of the projects Awesome Kingston has supported is vast: art, culture, tech, charity, health, recreation… if the project is awesome and it helps make Kingston even more awesome than it already is, it can definitely be pitched.

We here at Kingstonist love the work Awesome Kingston has done and continues to do, and we wanted to develop a means to create more exposure for the awesome projects they support.

With that, we present to you Kingstonist’s Awesome Profiles, profiling the winners of each micro-grant and their awesome projects each month.

Operation Warm Feet
Awesome Kingston grant winner October 2018

Stephanie Wheeler (left), coordinator of Operation Warm Feet with Matt Dubblestein, dean of Awesome Kingston, after Wheeler received the Awesome Kingston grant for Operation Warm Feet on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018.

We’ve all experienced it at one time or another: the terrible feeling that chills you to the bone when improper footwear leaves you with wet, cold feet in the depths of winter.

For many of us, luckily this only happens when we’ve chosen to wear the wrong shoes for the current weather, or the weather has suddenly changed and we’ve been caught in dress shoes as the skies open up with rain or snow. But for a lot of people, this experience occurs not because of a poor decision, but because proper footwear is unaffordable.

While there are a number of different charities and organizations that collect and disperse winter coats and snowsuits for those who cannot afford them, the same cannot be said about winter boots. In fact, it was having that gap in the community’s needs brought to their attention that caused Kingston Community Health Centres (KCHC) to form Operation Warm Feet 19 years ago.

“In 1999, a community member mentioned that the ‘Clothes for Kids’ campaign, sponsored by CORUS entertainment, could no longer provide children with boots and snowsuits as the demand had become too great,” said Helen Mabberly, a program manager with KCHC, which is the umbrella organization that started Operation Warm Feet.

“The Clothes for Kids campaign focused on snowsuits and so Operation Warm Feet was launched, providing winter boots for kids all the way up to age 18.”

When asked what inspired Operation Warm Feet, Mabberly was direct and honest.

“Kids with cold feet in the Rideau Heights neighbourhood,” she said bluntly.

Last year alone, Operation Warm Feet distributed 540 pairs of new boots to community children and youth. At a the cost of $2 a pair, the initiative ensures it address the need for winter boots while also providing that service with a sense of dignity. Each year, at least 50 per cent of those families that access the service are new – either to the service, or to Kingston. For those who work with Operation Warm Feet, it’s the moment a child or youth receives a new pair of boots that makes all their efforts worthwhile.

“Seeing smiling kids’ faces when they receive a new pair of warm boots is the most rewarding part,” Mabberly said.

“Sometimes it’s their first ever pair of winter boots, especially if they are immigrants from a warmer climate who didn’t fully understand how cold our winters can be.”

It’s because of the generosity of the community that Operation Warm Feet is able to make moments like that happen over and over again, Mabberly expressed. Donations from the general public – and the $1,000 micro-grant from Awesome Kingston – are the only way KCHC is able to cover the costs of the boots they sell for a nominal fee. This year, Operation Warm Feet has already ordered 600 pairs of warm winter boots, and expects to see all 600 pairs go to those who need them.

Still, there is one part of working with Operation Warm Feet that is never easy, Mabberly explained.

“[The most challenging part] is having to turn people away if we don’t have enough boots to meet the demands of our community,” she said.

That’s why Operation Warm Feet depends on their own fundraising efforts and the support of the community to try to avoid that happening.

“Have you ever had cold feet in the winter months? Now imagine you’re a child who can’t play outside because you don’t have boots,” Mabberly said.

“It’s important to find out about worthy causes in your community and try to help!”

This year, Operation Warm Feet will be selling winter boots for $2 a pair to anyone 18 years old or younger on Saturday, Nov. 24 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at KCHC, located at 263 Weller Ave. For more information, contact Stephanie Wheeler, coordinator of Operation Warm Feet, at [email protected] or by calling 613-542-2949 ext. 2169. To find out more about KCHC, go to www.kchc.ca.

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