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Food for clothing exchange celebrating 31 years

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

The Durham Region Schools Food for Clothing Exchange has kicked off for the 31st year.

The exchange will be held on Saturday, Nov. 23, from 9 a.m. to noon at Bobby Orr Public School, 7 Waterloo Street, in Oshawa.

Set up will be on Friday, Nov. 22, and Jim Fergusson, event coordinator, says any high school students interested in helping out will receive volunteer hours.

“I’m usually generous with the hours,” quips Fergusson.

He expressed a great need for volunteers, noting they could always use more.

He also noted there is a need for helping hands on the Saturday to assist patrons and pack up.

The event was started by 30 years ago by Fergusson after he spotted a young girl walking in the dead of winter with only a light jacket, track pants, and rubber boots.

“I can still visualize it,” he says. “I thought, ‘This girl isn’t even going to make it to school, she’s just shaking.’”

Despite some trepidation, as he knew he was a strange man to the young girl, he invited her in to get warm, and took her to school.

“She didn’t need a second invitation,” says Fergusson. “She was coming every morning apparently, and I saw her one morning, and she came in bare legs on a bitter, cold morning.”

He says he knew she didn’t have a snowsuit, but she did have track pants. So he told her to go home and put two pairs on because of how cold it was.

“She says, ‘I can’t get in,’ and I ask why, and she says, ‘Mommy’s sleeping,” explains Fergusson.

After asking the girl who woke her up for school in the morning, she told him she gets herself up, and that particular morning she had gone outside, and the door locked behind her.

“I was talking to the principal about it, and he said there’s a lot of that going on, and this was before the breakfast programs started,” says Fergusson.

He adds the principal had been bringing food in so the low-income children could have something to eat in the morning.

Fergusson explains he felt someone needed to help these children, and he was the one to do it.

But, he wondered how he could help while making sure they didn’t feel they were taking a handout.

“Let them donate some non-perishable food, if they can afford to, it’s not compulsory. I don’t want to take their food if they can’t afford it, and I’ll give it to the food banks so they’re helping somebody else,” says Fergusson.

He says those who want to donate can check with their local school to see if they are doing a collection, but not all do.

People can also bring food to Bobby Orr Public School as well.

The event was delayed after the potential strike by Ontario education workers earlier this month.

Fergusson explains he was open to keeping the initial start time, believing the strike would have little to no effect, but he was overruled.

“We had all the letters and everything done – the posters and all this stuff made up, and I’d just picked them up when I got the word it was cancelled, and 100 coloured posters were down the drain,” says Fergusson.

But despite the delay, the exchange is ready to go.

For those interested in volunteering, Fergusson asks they get in contact with the school or himself, which he prefers, as it helps him keep track of the number of volunteers. He can be reached at