In the Yukon, the problems of poverty and homelessness often go unseen.
But the territory’s impoverished are dealing with issues that are even more hidden – some might even call them “unmentionable.” Used unmentionables, to be exact.
The donation of used snow boots, jackets, gloves and hats is one thing. But secondhand underwear is a whole other story.
Just because someone is poor, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to put on a fresh pair of briefs, said Michele Thompson.
That’s why she has started an underwear drive she’s calling the Klondike Ginch Rush.
Over the next couple of months, Thompson hopes to collect 1,898 pairs of brand-spanking new undies to donate to the territory’s needy.
Thompson, who works as an administrative assistant with the Whitehorse hospital’s First Nations health programs, said her department already doles out donated jackets and winter clothing to patients who are often in need because they didn’t plan to end up in there.
But when it comes to underwear, there is always a shortage, she said.
“We get our donations through the Salvation Army thrift store, but we cannot hand out used underwear,” said Thompson. “In a perfect world, you don’t hand a stranger a used piece of underwear.”
But that’s what the Salvation Army often has to do at its shelter “because that’s all they’ve got,” said Thompson. “And they don’t have the money to be able to buy new pairs.”
Several months ago, Thompson stumbled across an article about a couple of Calgary guys who were driving across the country, handing out new underwear.
Robb Price and Brent King started the Got Ginch? Cross-Canada Underwear Drive about three years ago after King asked a Calgary shelter how he could help.
They told him what they needed the most was men’s underwear.
In their first year, the pair raised enough money to buy and donate 25,000 pairs of underwear. The next year, they donated 30,000. Last year they delivered a whopping 35,000 pairs of underwear to 10 different homeless shelters across Canada.
However, this was just a drop in the bucket. Within three months, it had all been handed out.
After hearing their story, Thompson decided to launch her own ginch drive.
She knew it was a problem in Whitehorse but she didn’t know how big it was.
Her initial goal was 1,000 pairs, but then she talked to the Salvation Army.
“They said ‘Great, we could really use 1,000 pairs of underwear,’” said Thompson.
“But that was my goal, 1,000 pairs, to be shared among all the social agencies in Whitehorse. But the Salvation Army could use 1,000 on their own.”
In a fit of creativity, Thompson decided to call her underwear drive the Klondike Ginch Rush and, fittingly, increased her goal to 1,898 pairs.
There’s already a lot of support after only a month of planning, she said.
“I threw it up on Facebook and told some of my friends, ‘This is what I want to do. What do you think?’”
In the next 48 hours, she had already collected seven pairs of underwear and a $50 cheque.
When it comes to cash or actual underwear donations, which should be new and still in the package, Thompson said she hopes for a little bit of both.
Cash can be stretched a lot farther. Partnering with the Got Ginch guys, who will be buying thousands of pairs of underwear this year, Thompson hopes to pay lower prices, probably be around $1.50 to $2 a pair.
But it will take a little while to get this discount ginch into Whitehorse.
Thompson plans to meet an April 15 deadline to send the money down to Alberta, but the underwear won’t arrive in the Yukon until fall.
Actual underwear donations would get to Whitehorse’s needy far faster, although Thompson still hasn’t decided whether she’ll be donating them as soon as they come in or wait to make a large donation in April.
The original program focused on men’s underwear only, but she will also be accepting underwear for women and children.
However, bras are not being considered this time around even though they are needed, she said. “That might be something we look at down the road. We’re just trying to help bring a little dignity.”
Thompson is looking for businesses, which would be willing to act as drop-off places for donations.
Cash donations can be made online through PayPal. More information is available on her website klondikeginchrush.webs.com.
Contact Chris Oke at