Back in 1996, April and I never imagined Holiday Helpers to be what it has become today. I was in high school and April was in University. She wanted to do something to give back to a family in Brampton, our home town, and I went along with her. In the years that followed with both of us in University we did what we could but money and time was always limited. It wasn’t until we both graduated and we were a bit settled that that we put a name to it and Holiday Helpers Canada was born.
This little charity has come a long way since those early days. Back then we had an organizing committee of two – April and myself – but we would enlist the help of our boyfriends, parents and any friends who happened to have a weekend off to help. In the early years of Holiday Helpers, there were no wish lists and we just gave families a tree and decorations.
I remember one year we had to raise about $1000 to buy trees and decorations for seven families. In those years, we didn't have donors, so to raise that amount of money seemed like a huge task. Remember we were only two girls in our early 20's. We dragged our boyfriends (like they had a choice) down to the Loblaw’s on College Street and literally shook a can for donations. This was back when people didn’t question our motives, ask to see our charitable number or want a tax receipt. We’d stand at the entrance asking shoppers for their change hoping we’d collect at least $200 in a day. We once had one man give us a $50 bill and we thought he had made a mistake and offered it back to him.
I created a rough Holiday Helpers logo on my parents computer in Word and flyers that we would hand out. With a logo and flyer, we felt so official!
The word spread about our little project, and within a few years we had a few donors and even a corporate donor or two. We wanted to do more so we started to give each family a few personalized gifts. April and I would drive around to every Canadian Tire in the west-end, hunting for trees and decorations that we fit in the back of our two-door Civic. We’d rally our friends for a one-day wrapping party. There was not one inch of my 1500-sq. ft. house that was not covered with presents, wrapping paper or tape.
Now, over 15 years later we do things a lot differently. Today, we have an amazing organizing committee, some of them are the same ladies who we forced to help us wrap presents many years ago (Wendy Kennah and Karen Richards – we love ya ladies!). The committee works their butts off from September to January, sometimes putting in over 25 hours of their free time a week just to keep this little engine chugging.
We have grown from a handful of families a year to 350. We have expanded so much that we had to move the wrapping out of my house to a 5,000-sq. ft. church basement and now into a 25,000-sq ft. warehouse and we are still busting at the seams. We make bulk orders for trees and decorations and no longer have to drive to 15 stores to stock up on trees.
Some of our donors who helped us back then still continue to support us. We have always been so appreciative of them for telling their friends and family…even before Facebook existed! This charity has been built solely on word of mouth and we thank everyone who forwarded our emails, shared a post or told a friend about us.
The charity has grown beyond what April and I ever dreamed and we hope that it continues to grow and expand. Thank you to everyone who has helped us, volunteered or donated in the early years. Without each of you, Holiday Helpers would not be what it is today.