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Dal student does a polar bear dip a day to help Halifax's homeless

Adrian Delli Colli is diving into a clothing drive with both feet – in fact, with his whole body.

The 20-year-old Dalhousie University student is doing a polar bear dip every day in the month of March to gather clothing donations for Halifax's homeless.

One of three co-founders of the Concept Project, together with Emmie Deswani and Garrett Roberts, Delli Colli is aiming to jump into the water at a different spot around Nova Scotia while wearing donated clothes every day. The New Hampshire native then has each dive's clothing cleaned and passed on to someone who needs them.

“The Concept Project is a conglomerate of events that uses mental and physical challenges to raise money and awareness for various social issues in the great outdoors,” Delli Colli said on Tuesday afternoon at Sandy Lake Park in Bedford, before jumping into a portion of the lake clear of ice with fellow Dal student Harrison Cowden.

“I think the main concept behind this project is we're using it as a community assessment tool. So you figure out what assets are in your community and right now the assets that we're measuring is agencies in the HRM area that are going to receive clothing.”

“Anyone can Google that, and when you do find out, you can figure what they do, what they use the clothes for.”

Those agencies include: the Salvation Army, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Dress for Success, Phoenix House, Brunswick Street Mission and Souls Harbour Mission.

Sandy Lake Park was just the third lake he's jumped into. The others were ocean swims.

Harrison Cowden watches Adrian Delli Colli leap into the cold water of Sandy Lake in Bedford on Tuesday March 23, 2021. - Tim Krochak

The idea is 31 outfits donated in 31 days.

“A lot of the items will be in condition that necessarily you might not wear but someone else will,” he said, showing off a pair of shoes with holes in the soles. “What you deem unwearable is often relative."

He's found that he's getting a lot of donations so far, mostly from students. He does laundry twice a week at the Bluenose Laundromat to keep up.

“And what I've learned – and this is just an educational experience for a lot of people, as well – the most valuable things are things that are hard to get, the ones that are sought after are things that keep people warm. People need to stay warm.”

The biggest need at this time of year is for wool socks, sweaters, and undergarments that stay tight to the skin, Delli Colli said

The Concept Project is also raising funds for Dress for Success, a transitional program that helps unemployed women, trying to help them get interview skills, a good cover letter, and some professional women's attire.

“What I've learned is there are a lot of clothes in circulation – too much. It's specific items that certainly we raise awareness (of). People need specific items, like shoes. Protecting your feet is a huge deal.”

Adrian Delli Colli wades back to shore after taking a dip in Sandy Lake in Bedford on Tuesday March 23, 2021. - Tim Krochak

The Concept Project started with the Wagon Walk, Delli Colli said, a 150-kilometre walk from Portapique to Enfield that followed the horrible mass shooting last April in which 22 people were killed.

“We raised money for the education fund,” he said. “The concept behind that one was I walked the route of the shooter and then I raised $10,000 for the community hall in Portapique and then also the education fund, which is going to set up currently unexisting scholarships for the surviving children.”

Now, it's much bigger, he said.

“This Clothing March idea is by accident.”

It's a side project that he's having a lot of fun with, he said. He went for a long run on March 1 in bad weather, came back drenched and just jumped in fully clothed. Then he had the idea.

The month of daily dips will conclude with an event to be held at docks on the Northwest Arm off Rockcliffe Drive on March 31 at 5:30 p.m.

People will be encouraged to jump in the water with them or just bring clothing donations.

Delli Colli said there's enough otherwise unwanted clothing in Halifax to help all of the city's homeless population, which he pegged at 421.

“You can give every homeless person (in Halifax) a T-shirt,” Delli Colli said. “Maybe 10, maybe 20, because we have thrift stores that are just filled. It's disgusting how many clothes that we have. So when you look at donations and you look at the purpose that they'll be serving, even if they have do have a hole in them, shoes are pretty valuable to people who don't have them.”

He added that a cool part of the concept is the participation of students raising the money and also putting jobs into their hands as well as distributing the clothes. Some of them may need clothes, themselves.

“There's a lot of low-income students at Dal,” he said. “The full circular economy thing is what excited me.”

Details can be found at their website:

Delli Colli said they have a number of other events coming up. On April 18, the anniversary of the massacre, they will have a road race to raise money to hopefully build a permanent memorial for the family members of the victims of the mass shooting.

They are also going to take part in The Business Cycle, a multi-leg bicycle touring race into the raise money for small businesses affected by the pandemic.

They will also have the Garbage Swim in July. Delli Colli said people will swim the 30-kilometre coastline of New Hampshire in a relay with a simultaneous beach cleanup following the swimmers along the coast.

“That'll be our first sustainability event,” Delli Colli said.

As for what jumping in Nova Scotia's ocean and lakes feels like in March, Delli Colli replied with just one word.


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