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Solid volunteer base drives Dryden family’s Sleeping Children charity

If you stand out behind the home on Pinehurst Cres. and close your eyes tight you can hear the sounds echo across the years. Slapshots, the hard thunk of rubber pucks into worn leather gloves, and the spread of good deeds from Etobicoke out across the world.

Upstairs, in the home where Murray and Margaret Dryden raised NHL goalies Ken, of Montreal Canadiens fame, and Dave, the volunteer gang is busy at work keeping the Sleeping Children Around the World charity humming.

Montreal Canadiens legendary goalie Ken Dryden (no. 29) and some of the "old boys" at a shinny game at the Dryden home the day the Stanley Cup was on display.
Montreal Canadiens legendary goalie Ken Dryden (no. 29) and some of the “old boys” at a shinny game at the Dryden home the day the Stanley Cup was on display.  (Dryden Family)

“It’s magical, wonderful,” says Dave Dryden, a retired high school principal and former chairman of the charity who, prior to becoming an educator, played for the Buffalo Sabres and other teams. Today, Dave, 77, is a cross between a grizzled Sean Connery and an equally grizzled Harrison Ford. His wife, Sandra, is not pleased with the grey scruff. “She says it has to go,” says Dave, walking around the home, for many years now the busy headquarters of the charity.

The Dryden children’s’ travelling salesman father Murray and wife Margaret started Sleeping Children in 1970. Murray had seen one too many impoverished children in his travels and wanted to make a difference. He died in 2004, Margaret in 1985. The Dryden’s children, Dave, Ken and Judy, and their children have continued to build the charity that raises money to provide “bedkits” to children in India, Kenya, Tanzania, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Honduras and Bangladesh. A bedkit is a collection of vital items — each $35 donation provides one bedkit — specific to the country. A school uniform, books, often a treated mosquito net for places with malaria, and a mattress or sleeping pad, depending on the local custom.

Sleeping Children has raised $40 million since 1970 and all of the money has gone to purchase bedkits. They long ago surpassed Murray and Margaret’s original goal of one million bedkits (1.5 million now). The charity says in its simple appeal on its website (it does not solicit donations but relies on word of mouth) that each bedkit “gives a child an unprecedented feeling of hope for the future” and provides “a child with the means to go on thriving and the promise that the world holds a brighter future.” In return, donors receive a photo of the children who receive the kits they funded, sorted and mailed out by the women and men who volunteer upstairs at the Dryden home.

What separates Sleeping Children from most of the other 85,000 charities in Canada is this: 100 per cent of the donor dollar goes to the good works. It is almost entirely volunteer based; they have only one staff member, the modestly compensated executive director Linda Webb. Fundraising is only done by word of mouth (no solicitation), and the hundreds of volunteers who travel the world delivering the bedkits pay for their own air fare, accommodations and all travel expenses. These delivery trips, which can be gruelling, last two to three weeks and cost each volunteer roughly $4,000 out of their own pockets.

“I would have to say that what our donors seem to like is the 100 per cent,” Webb says.

The Dryden family and friends pitch in continually to keep the parents’ legacy thriving. “It is part of our family culture,” Dave says.

On the other end, in countries like Tanzania, people such as community organizer and counsellor Mama Wandao look for the areas of greatest need and prepare for the deliveries when the Sleeping Children volunteers arrive each year.

In an interview by email, the 80-year-old Wandao, who works for a local non-governmental organization, said the Canadian charity has made a huge impact. “One child received her bedkit when she was in (Grade 3) and we met her three years later in another school and she was still wearing the school shirt she received. She was thrilled and she shed tears of happiness when she met the volunteers,” Wandao recalls.

Then there is Wandao’s story of a local Tanzanian boy, now a man working as a tailor, who received a bedkit when he was in grade school. “Now this young man gives his time voluntarily sewing uniforms for others and is so excited to do so,” she said.

Each $35 bedkit is made up of locally purchased goods, something Murray and Margaret Dryden stipulated, because it helps the local economy.

Sleeping Children has made five donation trips to Tanzania over the past decade, providing bedkits to 28,000 children. The rules laid down by the late Murray Dryden are such that even Mama Wandao needs to find people to fund her part of the work. “A number of individuals have pitched in” to help her out, covering her costs and the small wages paid to local helpers, Dave says.

Charity volunteers say they rely on local volunteers like Wandao to help them find the neediest children, but also to be sensitive to community norms. “We always have our antenna up because we do not want anyone (who receives a bedkit) to be ostracized.

Canadian charities are encouraged to keep fundraising and administrative costs as low as possible. The Star, which has investigated the charity sector for years, has found that the best charities try and keep those costs to 20 per cent of each donor dollar.

How does Sleeping Children keep it to zero? A couple of ways, explains Dave and Webb. Other than having volunteers do everything and pay their way, Murray and Margaret also left a $3-million legacy fund, including the Etobicoke house, and the money the charity invests covered costs for many years. Another way, and this is a relatively recent move by Sleeping Children, is they created the “Pinehurst Club” named for the street the Dryden home is on. Each spring, they host what Dryden calls the “most expensive breakfast in town” at the Royal York Hotel. The 90-minute breakfast, complete with a keynote speaker, raises $125,000 annually, charging guests $150. The funds go into an investment fund managed by volunteers in the financial community.

“We don’t want to build a war chest,” Dave says. “We just want to make sure we stick to the 100 per cent.”

Out in back of the Pinehurst home, the cement pad he and brother Ken (a former Liberal cabinet minister) and sister Judy played on is gone. There was a drainage issue some years back and work, including moving a retaining wall closer to the house, had to be done. The day before the work crews arrived, the Stanley Cup showed up. Ken had heard that beginning in 1980 players who had won the cup could bring it to their hometown. He had had won six cups in the 1970s with Montreal. The league allowed it and in 2011, local kids, charity volunteers and “the old boys” showed up to see the cup and play some ball hockey shinny.

The next day, while the patio was being demolished and rebuilt, the Sleeping Children volunteers were back upstairs sorting photos of bed kit deliveries.

Donations to SCAW can be made at

Kevin Donovan is the Star’s chief investigative reporter based in Toronto. Reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter: @_kevindonovan

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