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Big-hearted Beaverdams resident continues campaign for the homeless

What do local realtors, comedians, actors, the TCAG, and James Symons have in common? They’re all pitching in to help the homeless have a happier holiday season, and warmer winter.
James Symons, left, has teamed up with TCAG executive director Dan Pelletier in his ongoing quest to help the homeless. Bob Liddycoat / Thorold News

A man in his 50s was overwhelmed when James Symons handed him a bag containing hygiene products, socks, a toque, gloves, a book, and a non-perishable snack.

“He said ‘Thank you’,” Symons told the Thorold News, “and gave me a hug.”

Seeing the man was about to cry, Symons asked, “Do you want to talk?”

The man said, “No. I’ve never received a gift in my life.”

“He’d lost everything—his job, his house; his wife. It opens your eyes to what’s going on, and it challenges you to do more.”

Another man told Symons “he started believing in Christmas again” after receiving a bag of goodies.

“That’s where I broke down last year,” said Symons. “It hit me. People were high-fiving me and thanking me. Seeing the homeless youth is what gets me. Some of it is what you might call self-inflicted—drug use—but it seems mental health issues are multiplying. A lot of the jobs are gone.”

It’s these types of situations that inspire Symons to spend every spare moment helping people in need.

This year, the Niagara Toolbox founder will deliver his 1,000th bag of items that seem ordinary to most of us; but become lifesavers if you’re homeless.

While working full-time, in the past two years, he’s collected items, assembled and delivered 910 “Toolbox kits” for the homeless, letting them know they’re not forgotten during the holidays.

Some of the “tools” he considers basic for personal hygiene include: soap or bodywash, toothpaste, a toothbrush, shampoo, razors, shaving cream, deodorant, and Kleenex.

Other essentials for those that are homeless in the winter are a warm hat, warm gloves, and a warm pair of socks.

Symons estimates there are now about 30 to 40 homeless people in Thorold.

Thorold residents are asked to pitch in by purchasing Toolbox items and dropping them in the bin in the TCAG lobby at 131 Richmond Street, as well as sharing the message of need among their friends. New or gently used drawstring bags, tote bags and backpacks would also be appreciated, said Symons. At first, his Toolboxes came in shoeboxes, but he found that bags are much more practical.

“TCAG has provided me with much needed space for receiving Toolbox items and assembly,” he said, adding, “We’re having our community night on Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the TCAG. It’s an opportunity for people to drop off any items, or help us assemble the bags. We’ll get everything sorted that night and prepare for our deliveries.”

This year, local realtors are also getting in on the act with a competitive realtor challenge.

Given two weeks, using their social media networks, “They are filling their bins,” said Symons, acknowledging the “awesome support” of Revel, ReMax Garden City, Sally McGarr, and Boldt Realty.

“Barb Hackett-McCormack filled her bin within the first day,” he stated.

The teacher of a DSBN’s special needs class asked if her students could participate by decorating some Toolboxes.

“The community has gotten us this far. I’m grateful for everyone’s support.”

Others are hosting fundraisers this month, with all proceeds going to purchase Toolbox items.

Led by Mike Fawkes and Brock University recreation and leisure students, a Comedy Night is being held next Tuesday, Nov. 19, from 8  to 11 p.m. at Isaac’s Bar & Grill, 1812 Sir Isaac Brock Way, in St. Catharines.

Hosted by Matt Scarfone, DJ Brooks and Brock Alumni, the fun night will feature comedians Tyler and Mitch, with headliner David Green. Tickets cost $10 advance and $15 at the door, and are available by emailing [email protected] or [email protected]

On Sunday, Nov. 24, SuitCase In Point and ToolBox Niagara will partner to provide an improv variety show and roast, called King James's Gong Show, at the Mahtay Café & Lounge, 241 St. Paul St., St. Catharines, from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Symons will give his friends five minutes each to roast him, and he’ll be banging the gong during other portions of the show. Actors are volunteering their time to help, he said.

Admission is by paying what you can or bringing a winter accessory, toiletry, or wrapped snack.