Help Thy Neighbour

Christmas Exchange Program is a Local Tradition
by Rebecca Stanisic

From turkey and eggnog to latkes and brisket, holiday traditions at this time of year often centre on the foods and feasts we enjoy with family and friends. But what if we couldn’t provide them for our families? While many people are already preparing for the season— buying gifts, decorating and creating scrumptious meals for loved ones—others are struggling to find enough food, let alone anything extra, to put on their tables.

Right now, more people than ever need a hand to manage and to find some good cheer. That’s why the Caring and Sharing Exchange is already well into the annual fundraising campaign for its Christmas Exchange program.

This, too, is a local tradition. In fact the roots of the Christmas Exchange date back to 1915. Since then, the organization has been working hard to provide assistance, in the form of food hampers and vouchers, to residents who need something to eat and to celebrate. And the need is great. Up to 25,000 residents—varying from seniors to families to single parents—have sought assistance in recent years. But that doesn’t mean everyone gets it. In 2012, nearly 14,000 individuals went without because demand outstripped funds. This year, the number is expected to stay the same or even grow.

Last year, about 14,000 people went without because demand outstripped donations.

Agencies across the city partner to try and help as many people as they can and the Christmas Exchange spearheads a co-ordination service that crosschecks lists to avoid duplication. Cindy Smith, Caring and Sharing’s executive director, says this process “ensures that more people can be helped across the community”.

Residents in need of assistance can call 211 to be directed to the appropriate agency. Since October, agencies have been taking requests. The Christmas Exchange offers assistance in three ways, depending on the needs of the person or family. It provides food hampers for those unable to shop for themselves or vouchers for people to purchase their own food items. This year there’s a new opportunity for people to sponsor a family. You can share the spirit of the season by fulfilling requests and deliver your donation; it’s all coordinated through the Christmas Exchange.

Local fundraising events also help bolster the annual program. December 14, volunteers and VIPs will be collecting bottles outside every Ottawa Beer Store. Running on Empties will take place across the city and the aim is to top last year’s $25,000 fundraising total. Area sports teams, school classes, clubs and organizations are also encouraged to hold events and raise funds to help make a difference for families and individuals facing hardship. “You saved our Christmas!” is one of the phrases Christmas Exchange officials hear over and over again.

At www.caringandsharing.ca, first-hand accounts from people who have been helped by the organization reveal what this support means. These are stories of ordinary people—perhaps people you know—who have come upon hard times because of illness, job loss and other unexpected financial challenges.

How can your family help? Donations are being accepted daily throughout the campaign and you can volunteer to help pack hampers or assist at events. Your family can also sign up for the Sponsor-a-Hamper program and work together to assist a neighbour in need.

For nearly 100 years, the Christmas Exchange program has been helping to ensure that more people in our community enjoy something extra during the holidays. That’s thanks to the generosity of donors, volunteers and supporters. After all, helping out our neighbours in need is something we’re especially good at in this city. For details, see
www. caringandsharing.ca
or call 613-226-6434.

Other seasonal programs to support families range from The Snowsuit Fund to Toy Mountain. In operation for over three decades, The Snowsuit Fund distributed over 16,000 new snowsuits last winter to keep local kids warm. For details about contributing, see snowsuitfund.com and call 613 746-5143. Toys are another big deal for kids at this time of year and local families in need count on Toy Mountain to help them materialize. Last year the annual effort helped over 15,000 children in the Ottawa area. For details, see toymountain.ca.

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