Sunday, January 23, 2022

WDI collection drive aims to keep unsheltered population warm through winter’s cold nights

WDI is hosting the Warm-Up Wilmington Collection Drive through January, welcoming donations like hats, gloves, coats, socks, and other items to hand out to Wilmington’s unsheltered population. (Courtesy Pixabay)

WILMINGTON — A collection drive has launched to help provide warmth to the unsheltered population of downtown Wilmington.

Wilmington Downtown Inc. (WDI) — a 40-year organization that helps retain business, develop services and continue public outreach downtown — is seeking donations of hats, gloves, coats, socks, and other items as part of its Warm-Up Wilmington Collection Drive.

The drive works hand-in-hand with WDI’s Downtown Street Outreach Specialist Pilot Project, an initiative funded by the Municipal Service District. The one-year pilot program was approved in mid-August by the council-appointed MSD Advisory Committee. It included hiring a liaison with social work experience to help downtown Wilmington’s unhoused community connect with local organizations, to improve quality of life and lessen barriers to service.

The MSD put forth $1,500 toward transportation that will help individuals get to health appointments or obtain necessary assistance. It also funded $63,000 for the liaison position, filled through Block by Block, which works with national MSD operations and was contracted to manage WDI’s MSD services. 

Jack Morris started his full-time liaison post as part of WDI’s MSD Ambassadors team in November. Immediately, Morris was on the streets cultivating relationships with the downtown unsheltered population. 

“In collaboration with other social service agencies in the region, I have been able to link individuals to drug and alcohol detox, mental health crisis resources, and housing resources,” Morris wrote to Port City Daily. 

Morris performed similar work in Pennsylvania at a homeless outreach center and is certified in crisis intervention and as a peer specialist. He also has trained with Block on Block, which identified around 30 people sleeping on downtown Wilmington streets during a three-day assessment last fall. Yet, Morris said, after immersing himself into the work locally, he is seeing that number broaden.

“Some are transient, and I may see them every day for a week then never see them again,” he explained. “Some disappear when they get short-term housing then later reappear. Some aren’t necessarily unsheltered but still need other resources.”

Morris has made contact with nearly 50 people, all diverse, all with various exigencies: “Some need supplies, some need mental health or substance abuse services, most need affordable housing, and some just need someone to listen to them.”

And if an ear is what they want, Morris bends one. It’s one among many tools he noted gains trust. Passion, consistency and patience follow closely behind. 

“If your head and heart aren’t in this work, individuals on the street can tell, and won’t work with you,” Morris said. “Can you really blame them? You need to take the time to build trust and be patient. Most of these individuals have heartbreaking stories. You need to take the time to show them that they can count on you.”

Morris will personally distribute all items donated through the Warm-Up Wilmington Collection Drive. WDI kicked it off Thursday with a $250 donation to fund the purchase of 10 pairs of winter gloves, 10 knit beanies, 10 gaiter neck warmers and face scarves, 10 pairs of thermal socks, 10 disposable rain ponchos, and 40 hand warmers.

Other partner agencies working with the homeless population within the 70 blocks of downtown’s MSD also will receive donations. 

“[A]dditional unused items will be stored and distributed when encountering future individuals in need,” Morris wrote.

New and unused items welcomed for donation include:

  • Handwarmers
  • Hats
  • Gloves 
  • Coats
  • Scarves
  • Ponchos
  • Long-sleeved shirts/T-shirts
  • Sweaters
  • Men’s/Women’s sweatsuits 
  • Sleeping bags
  • Men’s/Women’s undergarments
  • Socks
  • Backpacks 
  • Small toiletries: toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, hand sanitizer (no mouthwash please)

Donations are accepted inside Common Desk in downtown Wilmington, 226 N. Front St. WDI will collect items throughout January for Morris and community partners to distribute immediately to those in need.

Inquiries can be sent to office@wilmingtondowntown.com or call 910-998-7744.


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Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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