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'Just something we felt compelled to do'

On an otherwise busy sidewalk in the middle of downtown Medford last week, a small box showed up one morning just as temperatures moved close to freezing.

The box, in front of Forte Clothing, tucked along the same Central Avenue block as BricktownE Brewing and Instaprint, boasted an offering of a few warm blankets and a simple white sheet of paper with a message printed in block letters.

"Nobody should FREEZE this winter. We have free blankets and coffee if you need it!"

The message, and the blankets, were from two fellows inside Forte Clothing, a graphics design and screen printing shop at 36 S. Central Ave. Opened in August, the shop doubles as a home base for non-profit Gamerosity, which provides gaming systems to children battling chronic and life-threatening illness.

Co-owners Manny Munoz and Griff Hardcastle shrugged off the attention their blanket box had received. Hardcastle said the cold walk of a few blocks from their cars each morning had given them pause.

"It was freezing outside," Hardcastle said. "When we're regretting the walk from two blocks away, I just can't even fathom people having to spend the night outside in those temperatures.

"It's been not quite as cold this week but even when it's warmish during the day it's still really cold and especially at night."

When a blanket was displayed in the store window at first, not many people were willing to walk inside to ask. When the box was placed outside, the blankets disappeared within a day.

Offers for hot espresso have been accepted less often than the free blankets. Gloves included in the box were taken nearly as quickly as the blankets.

"Every now and again, people come in and say thank you," Munoz said.

"Sometimes they just take them and scram."

Munoz said the shop was trying to do a small part of being involved with the downtown community of which it is now part.

With 20 blankets picked up, he ordered 20 more and put them outside on Friday. The blankets are free to anyone, Munoz said, who genuinely needs one — homelessness not required.

"A lot of people talk about stuff that 'the community' should be doing," Munoz said. "But we are the community so what are we going to do? This was just something we felt compelled to do when it started getting really cold. Yesterday we didn't quite have enough in the bank to get more blankets but we just ordered 20 more and we'll just try to keep it going."

Jennie Anderson, owner of Instaprint, said the blankets were a thoughtful gesture. Anderson, who lives near her downtown shop, said she had become acquainted with some of the homeless community members and appreciated local businesses offering help.

"I have a pressman that has worked for me on and off since 1997. He tells me terrible stories of being cold and being hungry and not having money to even make a phone call," she said.

"I think it's wonderful when the community pulls together. Being a business right downtown, I know quite a few of the homeless in this area. In this cold weather, I often think about the people that I do know and of how I hope they got inside somewhere. I think if I can find any spare blankets that I'll even donate to them. I cannot imagine sleeping outside in the weather we've had."

Munoz said he hoped the blanket box would encourage others to do their part to help in the community, though he said he was open to blanket donations for the box.

"It's a weird balance of you don't want to make a whole new program out of it," he said. "You're just trying to do something good — and really it's just something people should be doing anyway. People should be helping each other out.

"If people feel compelled, they can drop off some blankets. Obviously we don't want to take away from what anyone else is doing. We just wanted to fill what we saw as a need."

Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Griff Hardcastle and his fellow co-owner at Forte Clothing are giving away blankets at their store in downtown Medford. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch