Her friends call her a fantastic human. By any measure, Sarnia’s Kristi Disper is exceptional.
She is the reason 20 local families learned what a whole lot of kindness feels like this year.
It’s been seven months since Kristi launched a Sarnia chapter of The Fresh Start Project, a Canadian non-profit helping people transition out of shelters into their own homes.
Clients are often abused women and their children, young adults from youth shelters, and sometimes new Canadians getting re-established.
“We are told about them by support workers and go into action to fill their cupboards, their drawers and their shelves,” said Kristi. She finds out what basic household and personal items are needed, then sets up a registry on a Facebook page called The Fresh Start Project: Sarnia Area.
To date, 1,300 local residents have joined the group so that they can respond whenever Kristi puts out a call for gently used donated goods. Requests range from silverware to bed sheets and from towels to kitchen utensils. Fresh Start has provided items as small as shower curtains and as big as laptops.
“We are giving them the gift of creating a home,” Kristi said. “Fresh Start is very community driven and very gratifying.
“We can see right away the difference it makes.”
Whatever the need, Kristi collects it, packs it, and delivers it with the help of her team, comprised of her husband Terry Howe, their kids and some enthusiastic friends. The turnaround is amazingly fast. It generally takes only three or four days from the time a list is posted to delivery.
“It’s about people wanting to help other people when they need it the most,” Kristi said.
“We need to take care of each other.”
She first heard about The Fresh Start Project on Mother’s Day when she was talking with a friend about service to others.
“Service is at the forefront of who I am,” said the Grade 2/3 teacher at Sacred Heart Catholic School. “I just feel I was raised to give back, that we are here for a bigger purpose.
“This is a good fit for me.”
Kristi teaches full-time, has four kids aged 17 – 21 with her husband, and leads a really busy life, yet is taking the time to spearhead The Fresh Start Project, says friend Cheryl White.
“She is just one of the most thoughtful, giving and down to earth people I know. She would never hesitate to help someone in need.”
When Sarnia Blessings began delivering meals during the pandemic, a call went out for drivers. Kristi volunteered for over a year to ensure seniors and shut-ins ate better.
“I enjoy her spunk,” said Kevin Allen of Sarnia Blessings. “We’re very grateful
This month, Kristi appealed to the 1,300 on the local Fresh Start Facebook page to pay for 54 turkey dinners prepared by Sarnia Blessings. Donations poured in and she delivered the dinners to the 20 families that her group helped this year.
When she asked her Fresh Start group for donations for Christmas hampers for the families, the response again was overwhelming.
Sacred Heart students also held a Five Days of Giving event and contributed to the hampers, which were delivered with the meals by Kristi and her team.
“Christmas can be so difficult for so many families,” she said. “I wanted to start a Fresh Start holiday project and it went over so well, I hope to do it every year.”
Fresh Start is already experiencing the pay-it-forward phenomenon with past clients who are back on their feet signing up to help new clients.
“So it’s coming full circle,” Kristi said. “That gives me such satisfaction.”
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