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(L-R) Jack Tome, Nathan Lee and Alex Mastromarini from the Basket Project, after loading up the vehicle with donations in Etobicoke, Ont., on June 28, 2020.

Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail

The organizers: Jack Tomé, Alex Mastromarini and Nathan Lee

The project: Creating the Basket Project

University students Alex Mastromarini, Jack Tomé and Nathan Lee were finishing their exams and facing a bleak summer after the COVID-19 pandemic hit this spring.

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They lost internship opportunities and had to apply for financial support from the Canada Emergency Student Benefit program. Their predicament made them think about the plight of homeless people and how they would cope during the pandemic. “We realized that the homeless community was extremely vulnerable,” said Mr. Mastromarini, a business student at Western University. “These people aren’t able to stay home and [safely] quarantine and they also fall through the cracks of most of the benefit plans, if not all of them.”

The three friends, who are all 18 years old and live in Toronto, thought about doing some volunteer work but decided to launch their own initiative instead. They came up with the Basket Project, a volunteer-run program that provides homeless people with a small bag of sanitary supplies. Each bag contains gloves, wipes, fabric masks, toothpaste and deodorant. The organization works with homeless shelters in Toronto and the friends have expanded the Basket Project to Hamilton and Oshawa with the help of about a dozen volunteers. They’ve also been in touch with people in Vancouver who plan to launch a similar service.

All of the money for supplies comes from donations and so far they’ve raised close to $10,000. That has been enough to cover supply bags for nearly 1,000 people. “We never really expected how far this would go,” Mr. Mastromarini said. “When started we hoped to raise $1,000.”

Mr. Tomé is also studying business at Western while Mr. Lee is an engineering student at the University of Waterloo. They plan to keep the service going after the pandemic subsides and hope to expand it to more cities. “Day by day, as we’ve continually grown, it’s just been a great experience,” Mr. Tomé said. “And knowing that we have helped almost 1,000 people is very heartwarming.”

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