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Inventor offers a leg-up to homeless with free underwear Add to ...

Brent King, founder of Got Ginch, Calgary

It sounds like the setup to a bad joke: Two men drive a truck crammed full of skivvies across the country. But Got Ginch, Brent King’s cheeky charity campaign, isn’t just for laughs – it’s fulfilling a desperate need at homeless shelters coast to coast. A successful biomedical entrepreneur who invented the Spider, a surgical limb positioner used in hospitals worldwide, Mr. King, 43, could have signed a cheque and gone to play golf. But in September, he and Robb Price, founder of charitable-giving website DeliverGood.org, drove 75 hours over 11 days from Vancouver to Halifax, dropping off a total of 35,000 pairs of men’s underwear at shelters in 10 cities (the overwhelming preference: tighty-whities).

First steps

“In 2009, I contacted Mustard Seed, a shelter here in Calgary, to ask them what they needed. They gave me their wish list, and at the top was men’s briefs. I talked to a friend in Vancouver with manufacturing contacts, and he wanted to get involved for his own city. It eventually snowballed into a cross-Canada underwear drive – I offered to deliver it myself if people would donate, and our fundraising got us all the way to Halifax.”

Aha! moment

“As an engineer, I do a lot of problem-solving. Societal problems are really just a conglomeration of smaller problems. I thought, what if I could just take care of this one thing? Clean underwear is one of the first luxuries people give up when they live on the street, and it’s one of the first things to restore to help them get their dignity back.”

Your heroes

“My parents. My Dad is an engineer and a problem solver. My Mom is the most caring person I know. She taught me that life isn’t just about business, it’s about looking after other people.”

What keeps you going?

“On the road, it was hard to go three days without a shower, and then look fresh for an interview. It put us a little in touch with what homeless people go through.”

Lessons learned

“I used to think homelessness resulted from bad decisions. I realized that most of the time, it’s circumstance. How do you get a job if you don’t have an address or a phone number?”

Proudest moment

“My son, who’s 10, had to write a paper for school about his hero. He chose me, and talked about the campaign.”

Next steps

“Next year, we’re pushing for 40,000 pairs of underwear, and we want to top this year’s fundraising total of $30,000. The idea is really gaining momentum – a friend in Ottawa is working on a socks drive. We wanted to do women’s underwear, too, but we thought it would be a bit weird for two guys, so we’re waiting for some ladies to step up.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Farah Mohamed is president of the Belinda Stronach Foundation. Send suggestions for the Action Figure to Livebetter@globeandmail.com.

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