By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
It all began almost 30 years ago when Jim Fergusson was warming up his car on a cold winter’s morning, preparing to drive his children to school.
The Oshawa resident recalls seeing a six-year-old girl walking down the street towards him wearing only a light jacket, track pants, and rubber boots.
Asking the girl if she was cold, she concurred, so Fergusson invited her inside to warm up.
It was this experience that showed Fergusson the needs of many residents in Durham Region and inspired him to establish the Durham Region Schools Food for Clothing Exchange 29 years ago.
“When I started I figured it would be 10 years, then it was 15, then 25, so I figured I might as well go for 30,” Fergusson says with a chuckle.
The magnitude of the exchange has grown vastly over the past three decades, which creates conflicting emotions for Fergusson.
While he admits it is discouraging to continue to see so many local residents in need, the overwhelming support the community has shown for the event is something he appreciates tremendously.
For him, a secondary school gymnasium chock-full of donated items is something to behold and perfectly captures the compassion and caring people have across the region.
In most years, approximately 8,000 items are donated to the exchange, with between 400 to 500 people coming to collect clothing.
A unique aspect to the Food for Clothing Exchange is the option for those receiving clothing to donate non-perishable food items to a local food bank.
While this is not obligatory, Fergusson says many people are willing to give.
“Some may donate a few items…some may donate a bag of items or two or three bags,” he says.
Fergusson’s reason for adding this option is so people will not feel like they are taking a hand out.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t believe the need for such events will wane anytime soon.
“I hate to be a pessimist, but I don’t see it getting better.”
Described as a “complete family clothing drive”, all clothing in good quality will be accepted during the exchange.
Although he recalls receiving some criticism for this in the early years of the event, Fergusson says it didn’t make sense to him to only collect certain types of clothing.
Donations can be dropped off at any participating school in Durham Region or G.L. Roberts Vocational Institute, the host of this year’s exchange.
Clothing that needs dry cleaning can be dropped off at Carriage Trade Cleaners, 932 Simcoe Street North in Oshawa, Professional Dry Cleaners, 850 King Street West in Oshawa and Betty Brite Cleaners, 864 Brock Street North in Whitby.
The exchange is set for Saturday, Nov. 4 from 9 a.m. to noon at G.L. Roberts, located at 399 Chaleur Avenue in Oshawa.
Anyone interested in volunteering or for more information, contact Fergusson at 905-436-0275.