When Brent King showed up at the Calgary Mustard Seed in 2008 asking how he could help, he discovered there was a dire need for men’s underwear.
The following year, the Calgary-based biomedical engineer and entrepreneur started GotGinch, a cross-Canada underwear drive that to date has seen over 100,000 pairs of underwear delivered to homeless shelters across the country.
We’re not changing the world here with underwear, but we’re supplying a very basic need to help people maybe take that first step.
— Brent King, GotGinch
King and Robb Price, founder of charitable-giving website DeliverGood.org, are hitting the road again this year, driving over 7,000 kilometres from Vancouver to Halifax in an RV to deliver 35,000 pairs of men’s underwear to 10 homeless shelters.
“Most of these shelters that we’ve chosen are focused on transitioning people off the street and becoming productive people in society,” says King.
“To do that the first step is to try to rebuild self-esteem and a sense of dignity in the person—underwear is a really good start to that.”
This year, King and Price will be joined for the first time by Gabriela Ostendorfer who, inspired by the GotGinch story, started Need Knickers to provide women’s underwear to shelters. Need Knickers will deliver 5,000 pairs of women’s underwear to five of the shelters from Vancouver to Regina.
“Every year we get the same question: ‘What about women?’ A couple of guys travelling across Canada with a van-load of women’s underwear seems a little creepy, so we’ve always stuck to men’s,” King says.
“We’ve always said if we could find a lady that would step up and be involved, and be the face of the women’s initiative, we would help them in any way we could. Need Knickers is an exciting addition to the program.”
While it might sound funny to talk about, underwear is actually a huge need among the community we serve.
— Bruce Curtiss, United Gospel Mission
Bruce Curtiss, senior chaplain at United Gospel Mission in Vancouver, says being able to offer clean underwear to homeless people “goes a long way in promoting dignity and self-confidence.”
“While it might sound funny to talk about, underwear is actually a huge need among the community we serve.”
King started the underwear initiative as a way to try and solve a problem other than simply giving cash.
“We’re not changing the world here with underwear, but we’re supplying a very basic need to help people maybe take that first step.”
His background as the founder of a medical device company helped him create the business strategy for GotGinch: He arranged sponsorship for the delivery RV, sourced underwear at factory cost, and tapped his network for volunteer resources and funding to support the effort.
He hopes his experience will inspire others to think of how their unique skill set can contribute to charitable giving, especially if they can’t afford to donate money.
“Everybody’s got skills that they use every day, skills that they may even take for granted,” he says.
“I’m sort of challenging people out there to look at what they do for a living and say, ‘Is there some way that I can twist this to be a charitable gift to somebody?’”
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