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'I can make a difference': N.B. students collect clothing, supplies for homeless

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Eight Grade 9 students at Riverview High School in New Brunswick have been gathering clothing and supplies for people experiencing homelessness in Moncton as part of a school project that has become a huge learning experience.

Every day the students sort through their big red donation bin located next to the school’s office in hopes of making a change in their community.

The clothing drive is helping city’s most vulnerable people, but it’s also helping the students, too.

Tanya Thibeau, the lead on the initiative and a counsellor at Riverview High, said the kids in the group were having a tough time adjusting to high school and some were overwhelmed by the transition.

When they started focusing on others, they started to do better personally, she said.

“I am worthy. I can make a difference. I can use my skills, my gifts, strengths and talents is what we always talk about here. How can I use my gifts, strengths and talents to do something for society?” said Tanya.

They’ve been collecting hats, gloves, scarves, coats, boots, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, blankets, underwear and hygiene products since October.

The project is also teaching them about the extent of the problem and trying to educate others on certain stigmas that exist with the homeless population.

Student Lola Morgan said many people simply assume the worst when they see someone living rough on the street.

“Not every person that is homeless is dealing with drug addiction. It could be mental health, or they could be going through something themselves,” said Lola.

Student Marigold Balmer said most people experiencing homelessness aren’t bad people.

“They’re just trying to stay alive, said Marigold. “I hope that we can make this more wildly known so that more people will take part in trying to get more people housed, clothed, fed and off the streets.”

The school is working with the YMCA Community Action Network who brought in front-line workers from several agencies that work with homeless people in downtown Moncton on a daily basis to talk to the students.

Brianna Roy, the community action network coordinator for the YMCA of Greater Moncton, said the kids didn’t necessarily grasp how grim the situation was when the project started.

“We got those people to come in and talk to our students about what it’s like. Not sugar coating anything, giving the real details. And I know now the students have a much better understanding of what it’s like out there and how unpleasant it is and how prevalent it is,” said Brianna.

The students are embracing the project and starting to form a bond over the work they’re doing.

“Yeah, definitely,” said student Chloe Davis. “Closer connections. Once you talk about this situation and getting to know them with their experiences. [We’re] very close.”

The hope is the kids in the group can help better educate other students and adults about the realities of life on the streets.

“We need to get the message out there. To other youth, but to adults who drive past people who are experiencing homelessness everyday and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. I can do something too,’” said Tanya.

Donations will be collected at the school’s main office from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Jan. 18.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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