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New project helping residents in distress get a fresh start

Published on

Tara Jeffrey

Local individuals and families seeking a fresh start after leaving abusive relationships, shelters or other distressing situations now have some additional support.

The Fresh Start Project is a non-profit first launched in 2020 in the Toronto area to help folks transition from life emergencies to a stable apartment or house. It relies on the help of community members whose donations fill cupboards and drawers with basic household and personal items.

Chapters have been launched in Burlington, Niagara, Prince Edward Island, Collingwood, and now Sarnia.

Kristi Disper

“I know Sarnia is in desperate need of something like this,” said Kristi Disper, a local teacher, mother, and now the founder of The Fresh Start Project: Sarnia Area.

“People here are so passionate about community and this is really going to give them the opportunity to reach out and lend a hand.”

The plan is to support individuals or families twice a month, said Disper, who is working with local agencies and social workers to connect with recipients.

“We’re truly giving them a fresh start,” she said. “Taking that stress off a family who is maybe coming out of a difficult situation or moving their children away from an abusive home, or moving into our community from another country.”

“I send them a digital link — basically a wish list — and they’ll go through and pick and choose the items they are hoping to receive,” she said.

The goal is to make their day-to-day lives easier during the first couple of months in a new home.

Community volunteers are able to join a private Facebook group, where they can then sign up to provide gently used items on the list they may have, ideally within 72 hours.

“We just want to keep in mind that — if you’re not going to give the item to your ‘bestie’ — we don’t want it either,” Disper said.

The goal is to have the items packed, loaded and dropped off to the client’s new home within five days.

“Speaking with the other chapter leads and founders — they’ve been so successful with the model,” said Disper. “The recipients are so, so gracious, and the members are so grateful they’ve had an opportunity to give back. So it’s working full circle.”

Disper launched the Fresh Start Project: Sarnia Area page on Facebook in May, and quickly attracted nearly 500 members looking to help.

Offers of donations, volunteer hours and fundraisers started pouring in, and by the end of the month she’d secured the first family in need.

“It’s overwhelming — in the best way possible,” said Disper, whose blended family includes four children. And they’re all up for the new challenge.

“It’s great. We’ve got lots of hands ready to work.”

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