‘Everyone needs love:’ 8-year-old local gathers donations, money for respite centre

An 8-year-old girl stands in front of a table with donated items piled on top of it at the Tom Brown Arena Respite Centre
Charlotte Kwavnick stands at the Tom Brown Arena Respite Centre with donated items. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kwavnick.

By Charlie Senack 

A local kid from Westboro is doing her part to help support the city’s homeless population during the colder months.

Just a few weeks ago, eight-year-old Charlotte Kwavnick launched a fundraiser to collect money and gently used clothing for the Tom Brown Arena Respite Centre, a program set up to help the city’s homeless population during the colder months of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Within six days, she raised over $950 and collected various pieces of winter clothing to donate. 

“It made me feel really happy and great and proud of myself,” said Charlotte. “It made me feel proud because I really love helping other people feel nice and safe. I want everybody to feel comfort and warm and for no one to feel very cold and homeless.”

The money was raised by writing a letter, which she gave to people in the community who her family knew, encouraging them to make a donation. In the end, the total was way above the $500 goal they set. 

With the money raised, Charlotte went to Costco with her grandfather and purchased 124 pairs of socks, 123 pairs of underwear, 20 long johns, 29 hats and 15 pairs of gloves. 

She also collected 15 winter jackets, 10 pairs of pants, 30 sweaters and four pairs of shoes — all pieces of gently used clothing which were dropped off at their home. Since then, more donations continue to be dropped off, which will also be distributed at the centre. 

On Feb. 20, Charlotte dropped off all the essential items at the Tom Brown Arena, a place that’s familiar to the eight-year-old — it’s a place she’s skated at in the past. She was able to get a tour of the facility and see how it’s been transformed from skating rink to a shelter for the homeless. 

An 8-year-old girl lays on top of a pile of items to be donated like socks and mittens
Charlotte Kwavnick with her pile of items for the Tom Brown Arena Respite Centre. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Kwavnick.

“We got to see where all the donations go,” said Charlotte. “They put carpets on the ice and places to rest with tables and chairs. Many homeless people have dogs, so they have dog cages and you can take a shower there and get clean and also have a hot meal.” 

The Tom Brown Arena was transformed into a Respite Centre in November 2020 to help the homeless population during the day. In late January, it also became an overnight centre after Ottawa’s four privately run centres stopped accepting new patients due to outbreaks of COVID-19. 

The centre is equipped with cots for sleeping, prepared meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a place to take a warm shower and receive new clothes (donated by caring individuals like Charlotte). 

The centre has seen such a demand since opening, Kitchissippi Ward Coun. Jeff Leiper said he hopes it will remain open until the end of the pandemic, adding it’s also been a key source for providing resources to vulnerable individuals. 

Charlotte’s mom, Jennifer Kwavnick, said her family’s idea to help the city’s homeless population was first sparked during the Christmas holidays. Jennifer, along with Charlotte and her twin sister Anna, was eating at a restaurant in the ByWard Market when they noticed how big the portions were after their meals arrived. Jennifer decided to donate the food to the homeless. 

“The kids’ meals were massive so I asked the waiter to pack it up alongside real cutlery and fabric napkins and we told them that we were giving this to the homeless,” she said. “There is a spot in the market — an alleyway — where there are always homeless people so we went there and gave them the pasta.”

Jennifer, who says she’s always been open with her kids about what the real world is like, said Charlotte reached into her purse and took out a $5 bill to give to a homeless man. 

“I’m very open with my kids. I want them to understand how fortunate they are and how much they have,” said Jennifer. “They don’t always need that other Barbie.”

After that encounter, Charlotte was inspired to do even more. After Jennifer brought up the idea of supporting the Tom Brown Respite Centre, the rest is history. 

“I want to do this (give back) my entire life,” said Charlotte. “I want to raise money for more homeless people, or maybe pets who don’t have homes. Everyone needs love.” 

The Tom Brown Arena continues to ask for donations and say they are in need of the following items: 

  • Recommended new men and women’s clothing or accessories in all sizes (small, medium and large)
  • Underwear and long johns (new only)
  • Socks (new only)
  • Winter coats
  • Sweaters
  • Pants
  • Winter accessories: hats, gloves, scarves
  • Belts
  • Blankets
  • Backpacks
  • Toiletries (new products only)
  • Fabric mask donations are also always welcome.

To donate, residents from the neighbourhood may email tombrownrespite@ottawa.ca or call 613-809-1731 to set up an appointment for drop-off during operational hours.

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