Clay Damon “DJ” Villnave is more concerned about the cold than your typical 10-year-old.
DJ isn’t worried about himself, but the many men and women on the streets of Syracuse without a roof over their heads, stuck in the elements.
That’s why he started his annual blanket drive, DJ’s Gift of Warmth, in 2010. The effort has collected more than 750 blankets for the Rescue Mission since its inception. This year’s drive kicked off Jan. 6 and continues until Jan. 31.
DJ first undertook the drive four years ago 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.
“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 it was so cold,” said mom 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.
Now a fifth-grader at Gillette Road Middle School, DJ hopes to collect 300 blankets this year. He also hopes to continue to raise awareness about both the work done by the Rescue Mission and the drive itself.
So far, his efforts to get notices have been successful. This year, DJ received several accolades for his work, including the Youth Impact Award, for which he was nominated by the Rescue Mission and given a plaque and a medal by Biz Events. He also received a Youth Service Agency (YSA) grant for $1,000, which he donated to the Rescue Mission.