By TOM GODREY
It took seven days for child activist Jessica Reid to walk 260-km from Toronto to Kingston to raise funds for a new bus to take more kids to visit their incarcerated dads in jail.
Reid finished her grueling walk, that raised about $20,000, on Father’s Day outside Collins Bay Institution. There she was met by supporters, many of whom were visiting their dads inside.
Reid, with her dad, Derek, are founders of a group called F.E.A.T., which provides a free bus service for children, and their mothers, to visit their loved ones serving time in southern Ontario prisons.
F.E.A.T. is an acronym for Fostering, Empowering, Advocating Together for Children. It is a non-profit group that supports children affected by parental incarceration.
Some 75 per cent of inmates in Ontario jails are visible minorities and many of their families fill the 24-seat bus every Saturday and Sunday for day-long visits to provincial and federal institutions in the Kingston area.
The visits to see loved ones in jail keep many of the strained families together.
“It was a lot of pain but not as much as some families have to endure,” Jessica said of the walk. “It was much harder than I thought but it will get us closer to a new bus.”
She showed photos of her bandaged feet that were swollen with blisters.
Jessica said more than 25,000 children in southern Ontario have a parent in jail and F.E.A.T. helps to keep some of the families together.
Some 163,000 adults are in the correctional system in Canada on any given day and it affects the lives of more than 179,000 children, she said.
“All these children are growing up without their fathers for long periods of time,” said Jessica. “It is a terrible situation that affects the lives of these children.”
The group helps about 350 families in the GTA, who do not have vehicles or can’t afford the trip with their children. Families are picked up at agreed to locations for the day-long trip.
“The fundraising walk was a lot of work and very long days,” Derek told Share. “It was all worth it for us to help keep these at-risk families together.”
The group plans other activities to raise an additional $60,000 for their bus.
Derek, who drove behind Jessica during the journey, said their 2007 diesel bus has more than 400,000 km and maintenance issues.
“By supporting these children we can build brighter futures and break the cycle of intergenerational crime,” he said. “We hope to reduce the detrimental impact of parental imprisonment on innocent children.”
The service is offered free to youth under age 18. Those above 18 are charged up to $35 to help cover the gas.
F.E.A.T. also offers free peer mentorship and after-school programming twice weekly in the Jane and Finch community and a summer peer group serving youth ages eight to 12 who have a family member in prison.
For more information or to donate visit their website at www.featforchildren.org.