“God bless you,” Jean Paul Boulanger, a young man down on his luck, yelled out to a group of about 100 people gathered near a table piled with blankets, scarves, gloves and hats in the parkette at the corner of Queen and Church streets.
Boulanger, who became homeless after a car accident, was sipping a Tim Hortons double double and clutching a couple of blankets and some gloves that were given to him by a group of congregants from Chabad Lubavitch of Markham on Jan. 24.
He was one of the many homeless people milling about the parkette in downtown Toronto, where Chabad of Markham congregants of all ages were distributing warm clothing and blankets, and offering coffee and hot chocolate, courtesy of a Tim Hortons canteen truck parked nearby.
They even festooned trees in the parkette with colourful scarves, left for those homeless people too shy or proud to have direct contact with the volunteers and might come by after the shul congregants had left the area.
One of the people on hand to add some glamour and excitement for the many children who showed up with their parents was Jake Goodman, 13, the star of YTV’s Max and Shred.
“I’m blown away by all the people who have come out and left their cushy homes in Thornhill,” Rebbetzin Goldie Plotkin, said.
She said the social action day was organized by Chabad of Markham’s monthly tikkun olam program.
Her daughter, Matti Schurder, the youth program co-ordinator and an organizer of the event, said the turnout was excellent. “So many families came together to help out. We’re all on a high to see the difference we can be making.”
Each tikkun olam event is put together by a team of two volunteers from the sisterhood committee, she explained, noting that on this day, Stella Saul and Diane Gelb were the co-ordinators.
“It was spectacular,” Saul later said in a telephone interview. “It was amazing to see all the volunteers who came out on a cold day and gave their time.”
A bin was put out at the shul a few weeks before the event for members to donate blankets, scarves and hats, etc., and Saul said she was also able to get some corporate donations.
She praised Tim Hortons for offering a special truck allocated for community events. “The guys from Tim Hortons were amazing, and so were the police.”
Saul said that one of the highlights of the day happened after many of the families had gone home. She and a few other volunteers went to a homeless shelter at Queen and Sherbourne to distribute the remainder of the items and serve coffee.
“There was a family who had once been homeless giving out containers of food they had made themselves. So we teamed up with them. They gave out food and we gave out coffee and blankets. It was amazing,” she said.
“The rebbetzin and rabbi should be really be commended for their leadership.”
The rebbetzin told congregants that this day’s event had been timed to coincide with Tu b’Shvat. “On Tu b’Shvat we thank God for the trees and the fruit… We are fortunate. You are doing tikkun olam to share our good fortune with others.”
Rabbi Avraham Plotkin said his congregants were getting more out of the day than the homeless recipients. “They’re giving us life lessons, like what it is to be without socks and gloves.”
He also said this kind of event gives Jewish people positive exposure outside of the community. “Things like this go a long way to fight anti-Semitism.”