Gift of Giving

Lisa SandhamBayview Magazine Holiday 2009

Christmas is a season that celebrates the beauty and generosity of the human heart. No matter what your belief or creed, Christmas encourages forgiveness, peace and love towards others. Our sense of family and community is heightened and we seek to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. We are reminded of the important things in life and find joy in the gift of giving to our families, friends and reaching out to others within our community. Giving simply feelsgood, especially when we know our assistance can benefit and improve the lives of others.

Canadians are well-known for their generosity. Canada has the second largest nonprofit sector in the world, a total of 161,000 organizations. According to Imagine Canada’s research study, the Canadian Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating [CSGVP], Canadians donated a total of $10 billion in 2007, up 12% from 2004. The statistics are encouraging and suggest that support for these organizations is on the rise; however, it is important to note that 12% growth in giving from 2004 is more modest than it may seem when taking population growth and inflation into consideration – there is room for Canadians to do more.

“As Canadians we have a lot to be proud of in the way we support our communities. Almost all Canadians give time and money, but the fact remains, we still rely on a small number of individuals to provide the majority of support. A staggering 21% of Canadians provide 82% of the total value of donations,” shares Marnie Grona, Imagine Canada’s Director of Marketing & Communications.

“We’re encouraged that donations grew between 2004 and 2007 but we need Canadians to continue their support for charities and nonprofits, especially during challenging economic times when demand for their support is up and resources are down.”

Canada’s youth are amongst the most active in supporting our charities and nonprofits. The culture of giving and helping others is a concept readily recognized by the young participants at Harbour Youth Services of Thunder Bay. This charity organization provides access to free, structured after school programs in underserved neighborhoods for children in grades 1 to 3, supporting positive literacy and social skill development along with additional skill-building programs in place for children in grades 4 through 6. The organization is grateful for the donations they receive each year that help increase opportunities for children and youth of Thunder Bay. As Program Manager Joanne Tomlinson explains, “Children have a lot to give and should not always be on the receiving end of help. Our Program Team regularly includes opportunities for program members to become mindful of the needs of others.”

Many of these opportunities come in the way of special projects designed to help others. Over the last six years, program members have participated in a wide variety of service projects that help people in both local and global communities. For example, in 2008 members helped to create literacy kits for underserved children living in Guatemala. Program Teacher Gen Veltri notes, “Providing children with opportunities to demonstrate kindness teaches them that they can be active participants at any age. Ultimately this helps to build strong character and nurture young spirits.”

One has not far to look within our community to see the numerous organizations that fill a multitude of needs within our society. They are the organizations that care for lost and injured animals, feed the hungry, provide shelter to the homeless, educate our children and provide support services to those who are critically ill. These groups largely depend upon the kindness and generosity of their communities in order to sustain their operations and continue the good work they do on a daily basis.

Local organizations such as Shelter House Thunder Bay have survived with the majority of its income derived from private donations. Since 1980, Shelter House Thunder Bay has been providing short term relief to those in need of shelter, food, clothing and support services. Their program is run entirely on donated food, prepared and served by unpaid community groups and volunteers. On average the soup kitchen serves an average of 500 meals per day. Cal Rankin, Executive Director stresses the importance that communities share a collective responsibility to help those who are less fortunate not just during the Christmas season but throughout the whole year. “During the holiday season the kindness and generosity of our community is evident in the donations we receive and the volunteers that support our cause; for which we are tremendously grateful. The issues of poverty and homelessness are bigger than most realize. Our organization struggles to survive with limited resources in the face of steadily increasing demand. Incredibly our overnight bed numbers have risen 23% each of the last two years and demand in our soup kitchen is up 30% in that same period.”

Over the last year Thunder Bay has felt the affects of the global economic crisis and our local charities and nonprofits have never needed our support more. Let the holiday season inspire us to find creative ways to give back to our community: incorporate a charitable aspect into an annual Christmas party; volunteer our time; donate unused household items that we no longer use; or offer our professional services pro-bono to organizations in need of our knowledge. The gift of giving allows us to create a life-long legacy that defines kindness, generosity and goodwill. As we reflect upon 2009 and look forward to the New Year let us be reminded of the words of Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

For more information on these organizations please visit these websites:

Lisa Sandham is an interior designer, home designer and freelance writer.