Ten years ago, Patti Dunn and Michael Grabham realized they had cooked too much food for their Thanksgiving dinner. They were living in the Eastlake area, and knew of two homeless men who sometimes slept nearby. They brought out the extra comestibles to these gentlemen. As the cold weather had already set in, the men also asked if they had any spare socks or bags to give as well. Patti and Michael saw the need for a new yearly routine.
Every Thanksgiving and Winter Solstice since then, Michael and Patti have gathered clothing and monetary donations from friends, family and others and distributed them to individuals in need. Now they're distributing these items on Mon., Dec. 21, at City Hall.
Michael's construction outfit, The Finish Company, has partnered with Parker Paint, Rodda Paint and Sherwin Williams. Donations of new or gently used clothing can be dropped off at various locations in North Seattle, Ballard, Shoreline, Bellevue and Kenmore until Dec. 20. The Finish Company's warehouse is storing the items.
On the Monday before Thanksgiving, Patti, Michael and several volunteers sorted, sized and prepared items for distribution. Items were distributed once already, on the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day. For convenience, backpacks and duffle bags each containing a hat, sleeping bag, socks, rain poncho and hand warmers were made available. A new addition this year are toiletry kits including toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and small face cloths. Durable, warm boots were offered too.
Patti and Michael speak favorably about the atmosphere of cooperation at past give-aways. "It's gotten better every year, because more people know about it," says Michael.
"We've found that people are pretty close to each other on the streets -- and they really don't take more than they need. If their friend needs a backpack full of stuff they'll grab another one. We've never really had problems with people taking tons of stuff," explains Patti.
Patti and Michael urge would-be contributors to consider their donations before giving. "You want to ask yourself: If you were living on the streets, would that shirt get you through the winter?" Muted colors are usually favored, and nothing too flashy or dramatic. Gray hooded sweatshirts are particularly popular. New (or relatively new) clothing is of course, very much appreciated. And every little bit counts.
"It doesn't have to be 100 pairs of socks; it can be a dozen pairs of socks, or one pair of gloves. It doesn't take a lot, it just takes something," says Michael.
Reginald Thompson, a Real Change vendor at Third and Spring, lists gloves, scarves and hats as items on his winter wish list, but also a pay-as-you-go cell phone for emergencies and gift cards for bookstores or Starbucks. As a poet, he'd like to study the greats and get tips about getting published, he says.
"I work on it every night... I've been reading and studying, dissecting other poems. Making sure I can get it down right," Thompson says of his writing process. A gift card for Borders or Barnes & Noble would take him a few steps closer to achieving his goal.