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Clay youngster collects blankets for the Rescue Mission

DJ Villnave, of Clay, is collecting blankets for the Rescue Mission. This is the second year the 8-year-old has conducted the blanket drive. Here, he stands beside the drop box at KWS Bear Road Elementary, where he is a third-grader.

DJ Villnave, of Clay, is collecting blankets for the Rescue Mission. This is the second year the 8-year-old has conducted the blanket drive. Here, he stands beside the drop box at KWS Bear Road Elementary, where he is a third-grader. Photo by Sarah Hall.

— For many people, the season for giving ended around the time they dragged their Christmas trees down to the curb.

But not for 8-year-old Damon “DJ” Villnave of Clay.

“People don’t care about other people after the holiday season,” DJ said. “I wanted to do something so people are still caring about people that are cold and are poor.”

That’s why the third-grader at Karl W. Saile Bear Road Elementary in North Syracuse organizes his annual blanket drive every year in January.

“He wanted to make sure that we do it after the holidays, because lots of people give during the holiday season, so he wanted to make sure that everyone still continued to give,” said mom Sara Villnave.

DJ first undertook the effort last year when he saw a news story on television about the Rescue Mission’s work with the homeless and the concerns about frostbite among the men living on the street.

“It was before the holidays last year. The Rescue Mission had a van going around and they were showing all the homeless people and people out on the streets having frostbite because last winter, unlike this year, it was so cold,” said Sara Villnave. “So he was very serious, and he was very upset, and he said, ‘They can’t be cold. I don’t want anyone to be cold.’ Then he decided, ‘Everybody needs a blanket,’ because when he’s cold, he gets a blanket.”

Thus the blanket drive was born. DJ, then 7, went first to his parents, then to his teacher, Jacki Donegan, and principal at KWS Bear Road Elementary for permission to do the drive. He aimed to collect 40 blankets from the community to donate to the Rescue Mission’s emergency shelter on Gifford Street.

Instead, he collected 281.

“It was cool,” DJ said of the overwhelming response.

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