What started as a single caring gesture of feeding those experiencing homelessness has blossomed into one of the most critical organizations in the Forest City.
519Pursuit provides necessities for their friends and gives them hope that a better tomorrow is possible.
Allison DeBlaire and Amber Irvine co-founded 519Pursuit in 2017 to create a friendship-based approach that would help those in need. DeBlaire says, “The whole goal at 519Pursuit from day one to now was to make an inclusive community, to make [people experiencing homelessness] them feel comfortable, where they don’t feel judged.”
What They Do
Known for their yearly sock collecting challenge, The 519 Pledge, 519Pursuit is now able to help their friends in so many different ways through a partnership with the London Food Bank.
Through this partnership, 519Pursuit provides hot meals to their friends from Monday to Friday. The London Food Bank donates the ingredients, and chefs at RBC Place prepare the meals. Afterward, 519Pursuit’s Outreach Team collects the meals and distributes them to community members. 519Pursuit, in partnership with the London Food Bank, is currently providing around 75 meals a day.
Additionally, the 519Pursuit team hits the streets to provide their friends with other care packages, including:
- Clothing packages
- Hygiene packages
- Medical packages
- PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
- Snack Packages
- Seasonal Packages
519Pursuit focuses on helping people in need by being someone they can call a friend. “Our biggest goal is to be out there educating and walking alongside our friends and letting them know that there’s a lot of different services in our community that are working hard to help them, and that if they don’t feel confident walking in those doors, we are here to help make a connection,” says DeBlaire.
She goes on to say that a simple “Hello, how are you?” and recognition can go a long way. “Anything we can do to help kick-start their day or help them back on a healthy track.”
How to Get Involved
With little funding, 519Pursuit relies heavily on donations. With the help of the community, DeBlaire says, “We can make sure nobody goes without a winter coat or winter boots or a blanket at night or somewhere comfortable to lay their heads.”
Each Saturday, 519Pursuit hosts a donation day at The City Centre Storage located at 203 Bathurst Street. During donation days, the Outreach Team accepts donations and prepares the care packages for the upcoming week. The team is frequently looking for volunteers to lend a hand.
Another way to get involved is to participate in the 519Pledge. Each individual, team, or business taking the pledge has the goal of raising 519 pairs of socks. When a lot of someone’s day may consist of walking, a clean pair of socks can go a long way, and socks are often overlooked as a donated item. Some of 519Pursuit’s friends have expressed that getting a clean pair of socks felt like winning the lottery.
In the past three years, 519Pursuit has collected over 100,000 socks. These socks have helped support over 40 services and shelters in London and the surrounding area. This year, with the increased demand for socks, 519Pursuit has raised its goal for 2021 to 75,000 pairs of socks.
519Pursuit will gladly take any socks, but DeBlaire reminds us that white socks are the best for their friends. Other sock colors hold dye in them and can irritate and stain skin. The 519 Pledge runs until November 15th.
Providing a Safe Place
Tents are another item that many of their friends need. 10 to 15 tents are requested each week, but 519Pursuit only has 1 or 2 tents to provide in a month. Unfortunately, there’s so much negativity and stigma behind tents. Many Londoners have even called for the removal of them. However, DeBlaire reminds us that for their friends, these tents are critical to their survival, particularly when it comes to protection from weather and wildlife.
“It’s a hard thing to understand if you’ve been housed and you don’t understand the realities of homelessness and the dangers of what could happen to you or your belongings. Your backpack could have your whole livelihood in it,” says DeBlaire.
DeBlaire says we may perceive people experiencing homelessness as single individuals, but the reality is that there are families out there. “There could be five people huddling under one tarp, using their body heat just to get through the night. Whereas, the tent could block off that wind and allow the blankets and sleeping bags to stay dry.”
DeBlaire mentions that their friends are often told to go by the river to avoid being bothered. However, the out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach further alienates people in need from society. Additionally, DeBlaire lets us know that when their friends are not visible to the public, it is difficult to offer them help from organizations such as their Outreach Team. DeBlaire explains that the increased flooding seasons can wipe out someone’s belongings overnight.
Bridging the Gap
519Pursuit would like to get the community to see those experiencing homelessness as a genuine part of the community. DeBlaire says, “We need to take away some of the fears and the perspectives. Look within and say, ‘I can be a friend to these people.’ We can all share posts to social media and start those conversations.”
“It’s a fault of our own, as a community, to look down on them for being in that position but not looking within to say, ‘how can I help?'”
She goes on to say, “The more people understand, the more people are willing to help out or get involved. To really help our friends, we really need more than just services and shelters. We need the general community, and we need wrap-around support.”
DeBlaire expresses what their friends mean to them, “They’re the biggest, kindest hearted people who are so full of gratitude and grateful for everybody who supports them. The more that we can spread that love and allow them to show that side of themselves. The more you build them up, the mindset changes within them.” Many of their friends have found housing and become volunteers at 519Pursuit.
519Pursuit works closely with over 15 different organizations, and the number is growing as others learn about their organization. By working with these other organizations, they can connect their friends with additional services.
DeBlaire says it’s a circle of support. “We’re just being that connecting piece and voice for our friends, but really, it’s the support of the community that’s keeping it going. It’s a beautiful cycle to see how many hands can get involved in this.”
Please visit https://519pursuit.ca/donate-care-packages/ for more information on what items are needed most.
If you would like to volunteer, please reach out by social media, their contact us page on their website, or by contacting them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DeBlaire says because of COVID, it’s crucial to let them know you are coming so they can appropriately fit you into a time slot. Additionally, you can contact them at Contact@519Pursuit.ca for any donations and other concerns.