From left, Ellen Couture, Justin Sandman and Bill Parquette unload a truck full of winter gear and toys Tuesday for Project Outreach in South Portland. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

South Portland Fire Department’s Project Outreach got a big boost this week from St. Brigid School in Portland, which delivered winter gear and toys the students collected in a three-week-long donation drive.

Carloads of items, including over 100 winter jackets, 25 pairs of boots, art supplies, multicultural dolls and soccer balls, were dropped off Tuesday – Giving Tuesday – for distribution to the city’s refugee families in need and to the homeless population.

Project Outreach was the perfect destination for the donated items, said Ellen Couture, director of admissions and marketing at the pre-K-8 school, because it helped the students target the needs of the most vulnerable.

“We asked our parents and student body to donate new and gently-used winter outerwear and brand-new toys,” Couture said. “A lot of times, people just give what they think people need and we wanted it to be specific. It made sense for us to ask, ‘what do you actually need,’ instead of just tossing them what we think they need.”

While winterwear was one need the drive helped address, the holiday season presented another way for St. Brigid to be of aid.

“This was going to be another year, after many years of a long journey, where they weren’t going to be able to celebrate,” said Joshua Probrislo, South Portland health officer, firefighter and community paramedic. “St. Brigid were able to come together and do something really special.”

While Project Outreach began with connecting vulnerable populations to resources during the pandemic, it has since blossomed into something bigger, providing basic health care to those who need it, Pobrislo said.

“I have received a lot of questions and phone calls lately about how people can help,” he said. “The biggest concern right now is food security.”

He emphasized that if people want to donate their time or money, they should do so at shelters and local food banks.

“I think it’s really important for us to plant the seeds of kindness and generosity in young people because those seeds will continue to grow throughout their lifetime,” Couture said. “The more kindness we have in the world, the better the world will be.”

Seeing students being “so eager to help” often brought tears to her eyes during the donation drive, she said.

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