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Good Samaritans find ways to spread warmth in unorthodox ways

Cathy Dobson There’s a period between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. after restaurants toss their leftovers that Sarnia’s homeless forage among the garbage for something to eat.
Chrissy McRoberts and her bulldog Legend offering warm hats and hot chocolate to those who need it. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

There’s a period between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. after restaurants toss their leftovers that Sarnia’s homeless forage among the garbage for something to eat.

That’s when Chrissy McRoberts takes a drive in her little Smart car loaded with coats, boots, hats and gloves.

With her bulldog, Legend, in the passenger seat, she’s alert for others in need.

“These are people who don’t want to be seen,” says McRoberts. “They have no address and prefer, mostly, to be on the streets.”

She doesn’t pry and doesn’t know their names.  But a couple of times weekly she encounters her “regulars” and offers them warm clothing, a hot coffee or hygiene products.

“They are near the downtown library. They’re along Mitton Street at the five corners, and up on Indian Road,” she said.

“I see about 20 or 25 of the same people regularly. Most of them have mental illness of some type.”

McRoberts began her street tours two winters ago when some friends with old coats hadn’t found time to donate them to a charity.

“A lot of people have good intentions,” said McRoberts, who was once a single mom and is motivated by the memory of watching every cent.

“People have stuff to donate but it just sits in their houses in bags,” she said. “I decided to be the middle man. I will take those bags and get them to the people who need them.”

The first time, she collected six bags of clothing and tied them to posts near the downtown library.

It didn’t work well.

“It was a mess when I went back,” she said.  “People ripped the bags open, helped themselves to what they wanted and left the rest all over the place.”

So she began her personal distributions, picking up donations and driving through neighbourhoods two or three times a week.

“I roll down the window and ask what they need, maybe offer them a coffee or see if they want to meet Legend. These are gifts they need for survival.

“They just want someone to consider them as people, as an equal.”

She said she stays away from anyone who might be an addict and hasn’t had a single troubling incident.

This winter, through social media, McRoberts has stepped up her game and distributed 13 huge bags of clothing so far.

“I start when it gets cold in late November and keep going,” she said.

Friends have volunteered to help, but so far she says she can handle the volume.

Recently, a local hotel donated 40 pillows and all kinds of towels and washcloths.

“If I can transport it, I’ll pick it up,” said McRoberts, who can be reached on Facebook at Dog Eat Dog Bakery. “I want to help people clean out their closets.”

When The Journal caught up with her last week all she had left were some hats.

“I’m hoping when people get all this new stuff for Christmas they’ll donate their old stuff. Just message me and I’ll make it happen,” she said.

McRoberts isn’t alone in providing warm clothing in an unorthodox way.

About a month ago, Nicole Fitzgerald at 274 Mitton St. started filling a six-foot evergreen in her front yard with bagged hats, mittens and other gear.

A friend gave the tree to her two years ago when Fitzgerald couldn’t afford a Christmas tree for her four children.

“This is the tree that keeps on giving,” she said. “I planted it and call it my tree of warmth.”

Fitzgerald has already had 400 items selected from the tree by people who need them. Donations are pouring in.

She’s started to hang coats and heavier items from some nearby lattice.

While McRoberts helps mostly older adults with mental illness, Fitzgerald sees families and younger people look for items on her tree, she said.

A several weeks ago, she offered to take any laundered donations local residents want to leave on her porch.

“It just exploded,” she said. “I’m not surprised by the number of people in need. I am surprised by the number of people willing to donate and help me.”

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