One of the most common quotes surrounding the holidays, originating from the Christian New Testament in Acts 20:35, is that it is “better to give than to receive.” Unless you’re referencing a certain Rush song about blaming supernatural forces for your mistakes, you likely interpret this quote to mean that the joy you can spread to others is, in the end, more fulfilling and meaningful than getting things from other people.
For anyone who wants to embrace the spirit of this saying, this article looks at different ways to give back to the community during the holiday season, with a focus on opportunities in Niagara to help people in the local community who are in need.
START ME UP NIAGARA
Start Me Up Niagara is focused on rehabilitation and developing independence and autonomy for people who are currently struggling. The organization supports those in need, and one of the biggest differences between them and other charities is their commitment to helping the people they support develop skills, plans and independence that will allow them to improve their situation.
According to the organization’s mission statement, “Start Me Up Niagara works with individuals facing significant life challenges such as addiction, mental illness, poverty, homelessness and unemployment. We provide opportunities to improve health, increase community integration and support employment.”
The organization’s core values include personal responsibility, goal-setting, partnership, community and inclusivity. The organization strives to create spaces where everyone can contribute and engage with the community, and envisions a society where everyone can be self-sufficient. Their specific strategy consists of a pathway from stabilization, to participation, to growth.
One of Start Me Up’s main services is their 365-day-a-year drop-in centre, which they say is “a place to go, a place to be someone, a place to do something.” The drop-in centre offers free hot lunches on weekends and holidays, nursing services on Tuesdays and Thursdays, mental health services on Wednesdays, as well as community engagement opportunities, coffee, and resources such as telephones and computers, and staff and volunteers to assist with applications and paperwork. Start Me Up Niagara is also an active support of and participant in Out of the Cold.
Anyone interested in volunteering or contributing to Start Me Up can check out startmeupniagara.ca
TEXTBOOKS FOR CHANGE
Textbooks for Change is a Certified B Corporation that collects textbooks, then sends them to Africa to fulfill needs for schools. Any additional textbooks that are not needed in Africa are then sold or recycled. The textbooks donations are specifically being focused on universities in Kenya at the moment.
There are five drop boxes currently positioned around Brock University where students can drop off any textbooks that they wish to donate. These boxes are located in Union Station, the main entrance to Walker Complex, Mackenzie-Chown A Block/ Taro Hall, the Welch Hall Library on the second floor, and the Sociology Department on the fourth floor of Academic South.
The campaign is being coordinated on campus by Melissa Nyamushanya, the Brock Ambassador for Textbooks for Change. Nyamushanya is currently looking for any volunteers who are willing to help her with the boxes, as well as to help her organize textbook drives.
“I’m trying to get the message across that, even if you donate just one textbook, you can make a huge difference,” said Nyamushanya. “I’m blessed to be in Canada. If I was living [in certain other areas] and my family wasn’t wealthy, I wouldn’t even have access to basic necessities.”
For more information, Nyamushanya can be contacted at email@example.com
OUT OF THE COLD
Run in partnership between several local community groups, including seven different churches in St. Catharines, Out of the Cold helps those that might not have food, shelter or family to support them through the holidays. The program provides a hot meal for anyone who drops in, and also provides overnight accommodation for anyone over the age of 16.
In addition to meals and shelter, Out of the Cold also promotes community; volunteers socialize with people who come, and the meals and accommodations provide a community setting for participants to interact with and socialize with each other. Many people who don’t have food or shelter for the holidays also do not have families or social supports to help them out. Out of the Cold provides the community feel and social interaction that helps make the holidays a better time for people.
“We really want to show that we care about them,” said Alyssa Urbshott, fourth year Brock Political Science student and volunteer for Out of the Cold. “I like that I get to have conversations with them and get to know more about them. They’re amazing people with really interesting stories.”
Out of the Cold is run entirely by volunteers, and runs completely off of donations. They are always looking for people to help out. Anyone is welcome; volunteers can drop-in to any of the sites about a half-hour before the dinner starts. Cash donations, as well as items such as clothing, to help out the program are accepted on-site at any of the locations.
Urbshott said that one of her favourite things about Out of the Cold is that many of the current volunteers are actually former participants who are now in a position to help out.
“A lot of the people who help there now were originally people who started out eating there,” said Urbshott. “It’s all people who really care, and I like that it’s run by volunteers and not the government.”
Out of the Cold runs Nov. 1, 2015 until Mar. 31, 2016. It runs every day of the week and starts at 6:00 p.m. each day. Volunteers are encouraged to show up by at least 5:30 p.m., and don’t have to worry about giving advance notice. Out of the Cold alternates between different churches every day; for a schedule of locations, check out startmeupniagara.ca/out-of-the-cold-schedule or niagara.cioc.ca/record/NIA3926
Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold is a large-scale charity organization that offers many services to families in need in the area. They offer a food bank, community gardens, housing support and assistance, medical care help, clothing, household goods, school supplies, and many other programs. Around this time of year, Community Care has some projects specifically focused around Christmas.
According to Community Care, “This year we want Christmas wishes to come true! As temperatures become colder and everyday tasks become more and more difficult we respectfully ask that you please give. Donate, so we can make sure everyone experiences a little joy this holiday season.”
Community Care’s holiday initiatives include giving food, warm clothes, and gifts for families that can’t afford them.
Whether it’s through volunteering, donating individual gifts and warm clothing to families in need through the “Adopt an Angel” or “Adopt a Family” programs, contributing financially to Community Care’s services, or filling one of the organization’s “Holiday Barrels” for donations, Community Care provides many opportunities to give back during the holidays.
For more information on Community Care and how to donate or volunteer in one of their many different initiatives and services, check out communitycarestca.ca or call 905-685-1349
TREE OF LITTLE ANGELS
Related to Community Care, the St. Catharines Tree of Little Angels campaign is run by the city to collect gifts to give to Community Care, who then distribute them to families in need.
According to the City of St. Catharines, “For most little boys and girls, now is the time of year for dreaming about the surprises they might find under their tree on Christmas morning. For parents in tight financial situations, it’s the time of year they wish they could make all their children’s holiday dreams come true. You can help by donating new, unwrapped toys.”
There are nine trees throughout the city, including City Hall on Church Street, the Seymour-Hannah Centre and the St. Catharines Kiwanis Aquatics Centre. Interested participants can bring unwrapped toys to any of these trees and they will be donated to local children in need through Community Care.
The city website reports that they donated more than 500 toys to Community Care last year, which helped with the over 3,000 families that the organization supports with dinner and presents each year, in addition to their regular services.
Anyone interested in the Tree of Little Angels, or who wants to know more locations, can check out stcatharines.ca/en/experiencein/TreeofLittleAngels.asp
PEN CENTRE OPPORTUNITIES
For anyone who does not want to participate in larger giving opportunities such as Start Me Up Niagara or Out of the Cold, there are still many opportunities around the city to give in more casual ways, which are still much needed and greatly appreciated.
The Pen Centre currently hosts three major giving opportunities, available right inside the mall. The District Shrine Club is currently located in the mall supporting local hospitals. Near Danier and Tim Horton’s is the Shriners’ small kiosk, where they are selling holiday cakes. All proceeds from the sales of these cakes goes to local Shrine Hospitals, where local children up to the age of 18 can go free of charge (including free transportation) for diagnosis and treatment. The Shriners will be there right up until the first of January.
The Charity Christmas Gift Wrap Kiosk is also present in the mall. Volunteers at the wrapping station come from Hospice Niagara and the St. Catharines General Hospital, and all proceeds go to charities. For a donation of $1-$8 depending on the size of the gift, the volunteers will wrap gifts for participants.
The wrapping kiosk will be up in the mall right up until Christmas Eve (Dec. 24).
The Pen also hosts an annual toy drive, called the Christmas Angel Sleigh Toy Drive. Similar to the Tree of Little Angels, but located directly inside the mall, people can purchase new toys and bring them to Guest Services, where they will be placed in a sleigh and delivered to Community Care. This event has run for over 20 years, and the Drive has led to donations to over 6,300 children. The event is available until Dec. 24.
The Pen Centre is also giving back by providing a day where children with Autism Spectrum Disorders will be able to meet Santa in a safe and appropriate environment that meets their needs. The event, called Quiet Time with Santa, runs on Sunday, December 13th from 9 to 11 a.m. The first hour will be closed to anyone who is not participating in the Quiet Time, resulting in a calmer and quieter environment, and families who do participate will be scheduled into specific timeslots that will reduce wait time. The second hour will be open to the public, but will allow for individuals with ASD to receive a free Fast Pass that allows them to minimize wait time.
For more information on this event, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT CAUSE
Before giving time or money to a charitable organization, it is important to do some groundwork to make sure that you ethically agree with the stances and actions of that group. With so many opportunities to give back in the Niagara Region, it is important to research and be aware of which charities you choose to support, and which ones you may not support for various ethical reasons.
For example, while the Salvation Army red kettles are possibly one of the most well-known holiday charity initiatives, a Huffington Post article by Zinnia Jones, originally posted on noredkettles.com, details various controversies the Salvation Army has faced in response to their alleged treatment of the LGBTQ+ community. MSNBC details a situation in which a transgendered woman named Jodielynn Wiley claims that she was refused admittance to a particular shelter because of her gender identity. The New York Times also reported a story about Bill Browning, who claims that he and his boyfriend were denied any help from the Salvation Army because of their sexuality. While the Salvation Army constantly refutes claims about their alleged discriminatory practices, potential donors are encouraged to do research and learn about these claims.
This need for research does not just apply to the Salvation Army, however; before donating, you should always be aware of exactly whom you are donating to, and what their beliefs, policies, actions and history are like. Because there are so many options available, it is beneficial to take the time to learn which options are the best for you, and which ones you would feel most comfortable supporting, so that your donations go to the causes that you support the most. A quick Internet search for core values and mission statements, as well as controversies or former news articles published about a charity, can go a long way in making sure that your money goes to the right place.
The options listed in this article are only a small portion of the many opportunities to give back in the Niagara Region, and also do not discuss the many opportunities to give back on a national or even international scale. If any of these opportunities appeal to you, they would greatly appreciate your support.
If you still feel like you haven’t found the ideal match, a bit of research and exploration should be able to lead to the best option for you. If there are any organizations not listed here that you would like to share or support, tweet us @TheBrockPress.