Toronto student charity helps out '1 Step @ a Time'

By  Natasha Milavec, Youth Speak News
  • October 16, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - There is one Grade 11 physics class that Natalia Blicharska and Mariya Kolomiyets are certain they will never forget.

It was during this class in December 2008 that they had the brilliant idea to start their own charity. The charity’s name — 1 Step @ a Time — is reflective of their philosophy that they must first serve the needs of Torontonians before helping others globally.

“I want to know that I have done something in this world. Many charities in Toronto are desperate for our help; we have to start by uplifting the community,” said Kolomiyets.

The initiative began at their high school, Father John Redmond, with the “Shirt off Your Back Clothing Drive.” The title comes from Matthew 5:40: “If anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.” Students brought in clothes of all different shapes and sizes. The clothes were piled up in front of the crucifix in the school atrium, a daily reminder that by serving the community, staff and students were serving God.

Once everything was collected, sorting began. Nearly 100 garbage bags later, and after driving three days in two SUVs crammed with clothing, the delivery was complete.

“I could not see my rear-view window,” said Roger Richard, chaplain at Father Redmond.

Donations were made to organizations across Toronto, including Romero House, and Dr. Andrew Simone’s Canadian Food for Children warehouse.

“When I delivered the clothing to a counsellor at Covenant House, his jaw dropped. He could not believe how much we had,” said Christopher Stidham, a theology teacher at the school who is also involved in the project.

“We want to donate clothing that promotes human dignity, so we took the time to decide what was acceptable to give away,” said Blicharska.

The fabric from the leftover garments was used to make earth-friendly and stylish — more affectionately called “chic-ological” — tote bags. The students are currently sewing bags to sell at school. Proceeds will go to Vita Manor in Mississauga. The shelter assists pregnant and parenting youth.

“This is a very creative and inexpensive way of helping others. It is a worthy cause and I am very proud of Natalia and Mariya,” said Dianne Parwicki, principal of Father Redmond.

Blicharska and Kolomiyets wish to continue their project for as long as possible. Jokingly, the girls admitted that even their parents are amazed by their sacrifices and dedication. Blicharska has even reduced her hours at work to devote herself to the mission.

With support from the chaplain and staff at school, Blicharska and Kolomiyets’ project began as an inspiration to actively practise their Catholic faith. One step at a time, Blicharska and Kolomiyets continue with their aim “to be involved in the process that makes a difference in this world.”

The girls are in need of materials to continue with 1 Step @ a Time such as used clothing, sewing machines, thread, fabric and zippers. To contact them, e-mail or

(Milavec, 16, is a Grade 11 student at Father John Redmond Catholic Secondary School.)

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