HARWICH ─ Homelessness is a problem that affects thousands of Cape Cod residents, and last week members of the Harwich Fire and Police Departments pitched in to help alleviate their struggle.
For four nights and five days firefighters and police officers braved the cold as they stationed themselves outdoors at Brooks Park collecting donations of toys, food and funds to benefit local families in need.
According to Harwich firefighter Brad Willis, Homeless for the Holidays originally began in Bourne, created by Bourne firefighter Craig Poirier.
“He wanted to help people who needed it around the holidays and came up with this concept of sleeping outside and 'going homeless' for a period of five days,” said Willis.
During the past 15 years, the tradition has spread from Bourne to Mashpee, Falmouth, Brewster, and Centerville, with Harwich joining the cause last year.
“We decided to get involved as a way of helping the community here in Harwich and bringing attention to people who need it, especially around the holidays,” said Willis, adding that those at the park collected new, unwrapped toys, non-perishable food items, and monetary donations, as well as gift cards for teens. “They sometimes get left out in a lot of the toy drives. People seem to buy younger kids gifts a lot.”
During the campaign, temperatures dipped into the mid-20s, the lowest of the season so far, which Willis said offered some understanding of the difficulties of not having shelter in cold weather.
“It really hits home what some people are dealing with on a regular basis,” he said. “We have an enclosed area here, a tent, and a fire going out here so we're not that hard off. We're uncomfortable because we're out here all day and all night, so it really does kind of bring it home. There are a lot of people on the Cape that are dealing with these kind of conditions on a regular basis.”
When the campaign came to a close on Sunday afternoon, HPD and HFD volunteers had raised 1,176 toys, 2,600 pounds of food, and $5,800 in cash, checks, and gift cards to support the efforts of the Family Pantry of Cape Cod in Harwich.
Willis said that while Homeless for the Holidays has ended for this season, there are still community members in need and encourages people to make donations of food, toys, gift cards and funds to the pantry.
“They do so much every year for an ever-increasing amount of people,” Willis said.
Through its Helping Neighbors campaign, The Cape Cod Chronicle is also helping the Family Pantry this year. Read more and learn how to donate on Page 3 of the Chronicle's print edition.