On top of monthly donation drives, Distro Disco launched a T-shirt fundraiser to keep serving unhoused communities
“There should not have to be a service like this, but it is so desperately needed,” says Charlie Hannah of Distro Disco. After years of working in and around the DTES, Hannah began holding supply drives for unhoused communities formed during the pandemic. “Through doing that work, we gained knowledge about where the best deals are for specific needs that people have—like tarps and tents,” says Hannah. “We were gathering donations and bringing them straight to the camps.”
But distributing resources this way only allowed them to serve one location, and Hannah had a bigger vision in mind. “I thought, What if we could have a mobile service that could show up in a different unhoused communities at a particular time, with the same sort of inventory, and also take requests?” So in January 2021, Distro Disco was born: a travelling material resource centre based out of a 1981 GMC Vandura.
Since then, the Distro Disco team has grown to 24 volunteers and a network of donors. “This is very much a group and community effort, and that extends to everyone who donates both material resources and money to us,” Hannah says. “It’s been very inspiring to see how people are stepping up and showing up for their unhoused neighbours.” Many donations come from the local film community, which is the industry Hannah works in.
“There is so much waste in film—the wardrobe department, the art department and crafty,” Hannah explains, “so when shows or commercials wrap, people give us things they aren’t using anymore.” Donating to Distro Disco has a much more positive impact than donating to for-profit businesses like Value Village, they note.
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And when it comes to donations, Distro Disco is big on transparency—it keeps a running document that details all of its spending. “It’s important to be transparent about where your funds are going, especially with fundraising that happens through social media,” Hannah says. “It’s nice to keep people in the loop about how they are contributing and where that money is going.”
Distro Disco’s donation guide details not only the most needed resources but also the best places to buy them. The volunteer team is making it as easy as possible for folks who want to get involved. And right now, what they really need is new wheels.
“The camper van is a fun vehicle, but it’s really not reliable at all,” Hannah says. The leaky roof, rotting wood around the door frame and classic engine trouble you get with most 40-plus-year-old vehicles aren’t ideal. “We are afraid that it will break down one day and we’ll have to halt our distribution.”
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On top of its monthly donation drive (the first Saturday of every month; the next one is May 7), Distro Disco just released a fundraising T-shirt designed by Courtney Presber and printed by Annie Axtell. The shirts are being sold on a sliding scale ($30 to $60) and will be available for pickup at the donation drive on the 7th.
Hannah stresses Distro Disco’s role as a harm reduction unit: “We carry harm reduction supplies for people who use drugs, camping gear—that’s all a form of harm reduction.” It’s harm reduction that our housing crisis has made a necessity. And while the community and donor response to the mobile service has been positive, Hannah underlines the need for political leaders to make tangible change.
“Services like this need to exist because people are literally sleeping on the wet sidewalk with a sheet on them,” they say. “This can’t continue. The provincial and the municipal governments really need to step up and do something about housing.”