Hoodies for hunger comes to Ottawa

The spirit of giving for a Vancouver-based business recently reached Ottawa.

Union Apparel’s founders expanded their initiative “hoodies for hunger” to the Ottawa Mission, where the company will provide five meals to the shelter for every hooded sweatshirt sold.

The shelter, located on Waller Street just east of Centretown, has served central Ottawa as a men’s emergency facility since 1906.

Shirley Roy, manager of communications for the Ottawa Mission, says the shelter was at 100-per-cent capacity last year.  

“There’s a need in the downtown community year round,” says Roy. “We have 235 beds available and our 2013 stats show that we had an overflow. We’ve been putting 10 to 15 mattresses on the floor every night to accommodate more people.”

The Ottawa Mission not only provides a safe lodging, but also offers programs and services such as educational support and addiction treatments. Visitors are also able to enjoy healthy meals.

On average, the facility serves 1,270 meals per day, each at a cost of $2.97. Roy says the shelter is pleased to be benefitting from the hoodies for hunger initiative.

“We’re always impressed with people who find a way to give back to the community in unique ways and I think hoodies for hunger is a unique way,” says Roy. “When Doug Crowe called us with the idea, I thought it was a great way to get people involved, especially those who wouldn’t normally be with the Ottawa Mission.”

Union Apparel was founded in May of last year by Doug Crowe, Henry Recinos and Caleb Hansen, but the hoodies for hunger initiative was launched the past November.

Crowe, 22, grew up in Rockland, 40 km east of Ottawa. He moved to Vancouver in 2010 to play club rugby and became friends with Recinos and Hansen. The three rugby teammates currently play for Vancouver’s Rowing Club. They started off designing custom apparel for amateur sports teams before deciding they wanted to incorporate a charity element to their work.

“One night we sat down and asked each other why are we in business,” says Crowe. “The general consensus was that we wanted to become successful enough to do charitable projects. So, instead of waiting until we were rich, we decided to try out retail apparel with a purpose behind it.”

And so the business was launched with a tagline of “Apparel with Purpose.” They partnered up with Save on Meats, a meat shop in Vancouver that offers a sandwich program to those in need. Union Apparel helped provide more than 500 meals since Nov. 21. Crowe says it was his mother’s idea to bring the project to the nation’s capital.  

The hooded sweatshirts are available in grey and blue and include an evergreen logo, which represents trees, “the idea of growth – reaching higher and growing deeper simultaneously,” says Crowe.

They can be purchased on Union Apparel’s website, unionapparel.org. The company is also selling its merchandise at a board shop in Rockland, Ont., and another in Richmond, B.C.   

Crowe believes the initiative is an alternative to purchasing purely commercial clothing.

“People are going to buy clothes for the rest of time, it’s just what we do – we wear clothes,” says Crowe. “By adding a purpose behind what we do, it gives people a choice to buy a $65 hoodie that feeds five people rather than just buying an ordinary hoodie.”

Emma Ali recently moved to Centretown to study Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa. She says volunteering at several shelters, including the Ottawa Mission, opened her eyes to the issue of poverty.

“Shelters were created for temporary accommodation,” says Ali, 22. “But with today’s expensive market, people flood to shelters to find roofs over their heads and bread on their plates because they don’t have another choice. Shelters are essentially becoming their home.”

She agrees with Crowe that clothes with a purpose are more appealing to purchase.  

“They (Crowe, Recinos and Hansen) humanize their hoodies to address a growing problem and I would definitely buy one to wear it and flaunt it everywhere I go.”