Lessons of the season

By: Pam Dillon

There are plenty of opportunities this year to teach kids about the spirit of caring and sharing: The long-running Christmas Exchange Program provides people in need with food hampers or redeemable gift certificates during the holiday season. “Making a financial donation and spreading the word are some of the easiest ways to support the Christmas Exchange program,” says communications coordinator Julie Séguin. “Another concrete way to lend a hand is volunteering. Anyone can volunteer for the Running on Empties bottle drive, the Christmas Cheer Broadcast, the hamper packing or delivery and the hundreds of phone calls the Christmas Exchange Program needs to make in December.

“Every year,” Julie adds, “families and community groups also come up with fantastic fundraising events of their own. In the past, birthday parties, concerts, bake sales, a lemonade stand, skating events and garage sales have been turned into fundraisers. Last year an improv troop held a Christmasthemed comedy night and various schools collected coins for the Christmas Exchange program.”

Last year, 5000 families in need did not receive assistance at Christmas

The average cost to fill a Christmas Exchange hamper is $75 to $100. Bigger hampers go to low-income families with many children. “The amount of the gift-voucher is determined in early December based on how much money [is] raised at that point, and how many people are asking for assistance this Christmas,” Julie explains. “We expect up to 27, 000 individuals — from 11, 000 households — to ask for assistance this year.”

Last year, although 6, 000 families in Ottawa received assistance, another 5, 000 families did not. “It was heartbreaking to tell them on the phone that funds were not sufficient enough to help everyone. While many Ottawa residents spend hundreds of dollars on presents, thousands of families with children find themselves wishing for a simple, warm festive meal. We want to make sure that no one goes without this Christmas season.” For details, visit www.caringandsharing.ca.

Another option is to donate, as a family, new toys or money to the annual Toy Mountain program. Call 613 280-TOYS (8697) and check out toymountain.ca for details. The Ottawa Mission (www.ottawamission.com), Shepherds of Good Hope (www.shepherdsofgoodhope.com) and Youville Centre (youvillecentre.org) are just three of numerous other local organizations who welcome support.

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