KEEPING WINNIPEG WARM: Bob Simmons (right), 80, a member of the Kinsmen Club of Winnipeg (MB),tries on one of the thousands of winter coats he has collected through the ‘Parkas for the Penniless’ campaign.

(Photo: Marc Gallant, Winnipeg Free Press)

Warm at heart
Winnipeg Free Press
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Page: N1
Section: Community
Byline: Michael Marshall

SOME things were just meant to be. Such as *Bob* *Simmons* being born on the same day that the Kinsmen Club of Winnipeg was formed 81 years ago, and how Simmons has now become the recognizable face of the service organization, by appearing on local television in support of the club’s Parkas for the Penniless program.

“People often come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I saw you on TV,'” he laughs.

The modest Simmons admits to being unsure about whether or not he enjoys the attention, but he does like the attention that the community-based program and, by extension, the Kinsmen themselves receive.

The Parkas for the Penniless program, which was launched in 1999, works toward supplying needy Winnipeggers with the necessary outerwear for Manitoba’s harsh winters. It does so by collecting donations of coats, scarves, gloves and mittens from the general public, bundling them up and delivering them to approximately 20 different social agencies in the city who then distribute them to needy families and individuals.

“We give out about 3,000 parkas per year, on average,” declares Simmons.

The Kinsmen’s biggest partner in the operation is the Winnipeg Police Service, which got on board in 2001. The Winnipeg Police Service’s community policng offices are used as drop-off points for those who wish to donate to the program.

Simmons says that members of the Kinsmen Club then go around to each of the police stations and pick up the donations throughout the program’s run, which is usually from early December until late March.

“We wouldn’t be able to do this without them,” says Simmons of the police service. “We owe them a big thanks.”

Simmons says a long future for the Parkas for the Penniless program is just fine with him. Not only does the program provide a valuable and needed service to the community, but it also gives Simmons plenty to do.

Simmons, whose porch is stuffed with more winterwear than a ski lodge during high season, is largely responsible for sorting and bundling the clothing, which is then delivered to the agencies who help the needy.

The octogenarian says that actively working to help others is far more rewarding than just donating money.

“It’s easy enough to write a cheque, but then there’s nothing to do personally,” he says.

To donate winter clothing that you no longer need to the Parkas for the Penniless program, call 233-5462.

Simmons says callers can leave a message and he’ll get back to them within a few hours, depending on how busy he is. And these days, that’s pretty busy.

“I had 17 calls just today,” he says.