For those who want to give back during the holiday season, it can be challenging to keep our efforts local and useful. This primer includes a few different kinds of organizations, to start the flow of ideas, and hopefully bring some attention to the hardworking groups helping out our fellow citizens.
Donations of packed, wrapped shoeboxes are distributed to women living in local shelters at Christmas. Items like socks, bus tickets, gift cards, cosmetics, sanitary products, and treats are suggested as gifts, totaling about $50 per box. This is a great way to get together with friends or coworkers to wrap and pack a box in an evening for a woman in need. (Spoiler alert to my own friends: this is my Christmas party theme this year)
Lots of smaller local programs and shelters turn to Toy Mountain for Christmas gifts, so this well-funded charity is still definitely worth grassroots support. To be honest, who doesn’t love toy shopping? It can be a fun, socially-conscious way to liven up the office Secret Santa exchange (who needs another reindeer mug?). The idea is simple: pick a name, buy them a toy that they would love, and wrap it. Once all the laughter is over with at the party, the toys all get donated, and nobody is stuck with the pine-scented candle. It really is the thought that counts.
I’ve included this particular group for the opportunity to sponsor an entire family in need, from the turkey dinner to the gifts. This may seem like a large undertaking, but for those of us with a lot of useless stuff rattling around our cool one bedroom apartments, the idea of giving a complete holiday to a deserving family is very welcome. The Food Cupboard also accepts donations of cash and food for their regular programs.
An Aboriginal women’s support centre, the lodge provides a range of programs and services to First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and children (regardless of status) who are survivors of domestic and other forms of violence. They provide counselling, cultural programs, emergency shelter, sex work outreach, and housing assistance under one cohesive umbrella. On December 17th, they host their annual Winter Celebration at City Hall for families and friends of the lodge, and are looking for donations of cash or gifts to make the event especially festive.
Falling under the larger umbrella of the Ottawa Food Bank, the centre offers emergency food services that include fresh ingredients and basic household needs to residents of the Parkdale area. They also have an event calendar full of cooking classes, community information sessions, and cool fundraisers. Each year, the Socks and Soup Campaign collects canned soup, warm socks for men, women, and children, and little extras like coffee, hot chocolate, hats, mittens, and gift cards to distribute throughout December. Cash donations and volunteers are also very welcome.
If your family is anything like mine, pets always have something under the tree waiting for them, and we usually get presents from them too (thanks for the socks, PJ). Pets without loving homes can go forgotten over the holidays, and the needs of local shelters increase after Christmas. You can sponsor a foster kitty’s living expenses for a month, cover the costs of spaying/neutering a rescue animal, or donate any amount in the name of your own furry family members.
A no-kill rescue shelter in Lanark County, this shelter does rescue and foster work for large parts of the Ottawa Valley. A key selling point is their love for senior animals, and focus on rehabilitation and fostering. As part of their Christmas fundraising, on December 3rd you can have your furry roommate’s photo taken with Santa, with all proceeds going to the shelter. That photo alone makes the drive to Almonte more than worth it.
Centre 454 is a day program on King Edward serving people who are precariously housed or homeless in the Ottawa area. They host a Christmas celebration with a turkey dinner and gifts for guests, and are always looking for donations in the form of cash, or necessity items. Since this is a drop in program, baked goods and other snacks are always popular as are gift cards that can be used as prizes over the season. Baking an extra pan of Grandma’s gingerbread cookies would go a long way for someone who goes without home baking. Contact them directly if you’d like to participate in their Christmas Celebration, you may just squeak in on time!
The Miracle League of Ottawa
The Ottawa Miracle Field provides special-needs children and adults the opportunity to play baseball on a purpose-built accessible surface. The goal of this passionate organization is to make sport inclusive and fun. Events range from games with the Ottawa Police to batting practice and base running with our own Ottawa Champions. All donations go towards the upkeep of the field, the building of a fully accessible playground, and keeping the cost of participation as low as possible. They do accept donations all year long, but for recent cases of Blue Jays fever, (or Ottawa Champions fever for us local baseball fiends) giving back to children in baseball might be just the ticket. (Bad pun. I apologize)
This list is only the beginning! Chances are, with a little Googling and reaching out, you will find an organization who would love some of your kind of Christmas help. Feel free to add suggestions on the comments below!