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This Toronto REALTOR® is ending the stigma around mental health, addiction, and homelessness

I don’t think that people realize how just one simple thing – like opening a door for somebody, buying them a coffee, listening to someone when their voice isn’t heard – can really make a huge difference.

Ashlee Shutt
Toronto REALTOR®

Ashlee's Website
Real Heart Hero Image Ashley Shutt

Toronto REALTOR® Ashlee Shutt is the founder of Morgan’s Hands – a non-profit charity looking to break the stigma around mental health, addiction, and homelessness in deeply affected communities in the downtown core.

The organization was founded three years ago in honour of Ashlee’s father, Morgan, who passed away from his battle with addiction when she was very young.

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In his memory, Ashlee leads the charge with a group of volunteers, who run bi-weekly community meals, conduct outreach – sometimes in life-or-death situations requiring medical intervention – and collect donations to hand out to people in need, in and around Toronto.

To date, Morgan’s Hands has helped thousands of people with remarkable changes big and small – whether it’s a hot meal, providing an ear, or saving a life.

For Ashlee, her personal connection to the cause keeps her going and knowing that with small actions come even greater rewards. Her sights are set on even more growth to help those suffering from addiction and experiencing homelessness.

 

This is Ashlee Shutt’s Real Heart story.

 

Q: Can you tell us about Morgan’s Hands and how it all got started?

 

A: Three years ago, I opened a non-profit called Morgan’s Hands in honour of my dad. We lost him when I was nine years old when he fell into addiction for about the last five years of his life. Losing my dad so young, I had a calling to do something in his memory. The whole premise of the organization is to help suffering addicts, as well as the homeless and vulnerable, in and around Toronto’s downtown core.

We go to Moss Park, Allen Gardens, Regent Park and other areas to conduct outreach, organize community meals – feeding 100 to 200 people at a time – all while providing people with hope, kindness and compassion. This is something we do it all year round, with winter of course being the time when we’re needed the most.

 

Q: How do these community meals and events come together?

 

A: As far as the community meals go, we host them once or twice a month, depending on the donations that we’ve received through Second Harvest – a food rescue app – as well as our money pool.

One memory that sticks out to me was when I was in touch with the Marriott Hotel downtown and they were supposed to be hosting a large event, but people didn’t show up. Because of that, they donated roughly 15 trays of fresh food, which I was able to freeze and store at home for future community meals, since we have our food handling certificates.

I’m thankful for the donations that come in through various sources but also for the team of people I have with me. My husband, Mark, is a Red Seal chef, so a lot of cooking happens in our house. We’ve had to get another stove and another fridge to keep up.

And then there are the volunteers. When it comes to social media, we started with two members on our Facebook page – Mark and I – and now we’re at about 1,200 and counting. Through these channels, we have people in all parts of the city being little voices for Morgan’s Hands. They’ll post saying they were just on a Facebook group and saw someone was donating 100 hats, then they volunteer to go pick them up. The volunteers are incredibly dedicated to supporting the cause.

I was also fortunate enough to win the Community Excellence Award at Royal LePage this year, which led to my colleagues reaching out to ask how they could get involved. The continued support and interest for those on my team and in my community has really all stemmed from word of mouth, and this incredible group of volunteers just keeps on growing.

 

Q: You have a tagline for Morgan’s Hands that says, ‘a simple act of kindness can change the world one person at a time.’ How do you embody that through your work as both a REALTOR® and running the organization?

 

A: I don’t think that people realize how just one simple thing – like opening a door for somebody, buying them a coffee, listening to someone when their voice isn’t heard – can really make a huge difference. What I try to bring to the table is that if every human took one moment out of their day to do something – and it doesn’t have to cost money – but if everyone took the time to do something nice for someone, the world would be a brighter place.

I just think it’s important in everything we do in life, whether I’m doing real estate or serving food to people that can use a helping hand, I remember that anytime in our life, we could lose everything. And I think that’s the most important thing to remember. If we all worked together to employ a little more kindness, I think that we can really work as a team to help combat some of the big issues our world is facing.

 

Q: What sets Morgan’s Hands apart?

 

A: It was really important to me to set Morgan’s Hands off properly and to get a licenced non-profit certificate. This helps with securing more donations and volunteers.

I also had experiences with past volunteering opportunities where I found myself wanting to do more, so what really charged me to move forward was wanting to be able to do things that other organizations weren’t doing, and I wanted to be able to go into different areas that other people weren’t going to.

Also at the forefront, I wanted to really remember my dad in a positive light, because his addiction was very short lived, but his life was 38 years long. He had a beautiful life, he was a very talented contractor, a husband, a brother, a father, and a son, and if it could happen to my father, then I believe that there are other people out there that addiction can happen to, and I wanted to create an organization to help challenge and break through the stigma.

 

Q: Are there any moments in your volunteering experience that stick out above others?

 

A: When we’re out for community meals or doing outreach, people come up to me all the time and say, ‘I need your help, I’d like you to help me get into treatment, I’d like you to help me make a difference.’

There are recent examples where people have said, ‘Thank you so much for making homemade muffins. I haven’t had them in 15 years since my mother made them for me,’ or ‘this hot meal today made the difference. I haven’t had a hot meal since I’ve been on the street for a week.’ ‘Thanks for the extra gloves. You know, if you didn’t give us hats and gloves tonight, I don’t know where I would sleep. The shelters are at capacity, I can’t get a place to live. Thank you for coming out and helping us.’

All these little stories of people asking for help fill me with such purpose. I feel I’m making a difference through Morgan’s Hands in my dad’s honour and I’m constantly aware of the genuine gratitude from those who are really, really in need of help, in our own backyards.

 

Q: What’s next for Morgan’s Hands?

 

A: I have big goals for Morgan’s Hands, and it might seem lofty but by the end of this year, I’d like to have charity status. Currently, we’re a licensed non-profit registered federally with the Canadian government. The next step after that is to achieve charity status so we’ll be able to give charity receipts for those who donate, and with that ability, I’ll be able to reach out to larger organizations such as Costco and Walmart for donations.

We currently run Morgan’s Hands out of our home and in an ideal world, I’d also like to apply for a government grant to be able to run it as a separate entity. I want to be able to create a centre for people to go to so if they need hygiene products, a hot meal, or a service of some kind, they can simply stop by for the help they need. Whether that means being operated out of a church, getting a grant to rent a space, or another idea, I want to create a space with set hours for people to come to and depend on. That’s what I want for this organization.

It’s a huge commitment and I know all about that from my work as a real estate agent. My mom, Linda Shutt, and I work together, and we are a great team. It’s all about time management and how can I donate the appropriate amount of time to all the factors in my life.