This year, give the gift that keeps on giving: Give to charity

Good things may come in small packages, but talk to the folks at some of Hamilton’s best recognized charities and they’ll tell you the best gifts may not have any package at all. This holiday season, think outside the gift basket (or box of chocolates, pair of socks or impersonal gift certificate) and donate to some of the city’s less fortunate in the name of your coworkers, family members or pals.

City Kidz

The back story. City Kidz exists to inspire big dreams for children living in low income communities. Founded in Hamilton, the program makes strong, lasting personal connections with children and their families through core activities, including a weekly home visiting program that reaches almost 2,500 kids and an interactive Saturday “experience” that’s attended by more than 1,000 children. Programming is based on Christian values but everyone is welcome. “Love is the common denominator,” says director of fund development, Susan Morris.

Holiday programs. Every December since 1995, City Kidz has run its Gift of Christmas program, which saw more than 4,200 personalized gifts given to children in 2012. “Hand-picking a gift speaks volumes,” says Morris. “It tells the children they matter and they’ve been heard.” Children circle their top three gift picks on a list of popular toys for that season. “You’ve no idea how many times we hear, ‘That’s exactly what I wanted’,” says Morris.

How to give. Online donations are accepted anytime through the City Kidz secure website and unwrapped toys can be donated at one of 15 toy drive locations across the city (check out the City Kidz website for a wish list and drop-off spots). But many families and organizations opt to make a more substantial commitment of their time by coordinating their own toy drives, running fundraisers or volunteering to select, wrap or deliver gifts. “We recommend that anyone interested in helping come on a Saturday to see first-hand the impact they’ll have on the kids,” says Morris. Schedule a visit by calling the office.

Neighbour 2 Neighbour Centre

The back story. This non-denominational Hamilton Mountain-based charity started out in 1986 helping 70 families with their emergency food needs. Today, Neighbour 2 Neighbour Centre offers 20 different programs, including a “free grocery store” that offers 80,000 pounds of food each month to more than 1,300 families. Community gardens and community kitchens help people stretch their food dollar with nutritious meals. N2N also runs a highly successful tutoring program that helps 200 children in Grades 1 to 3 at 12 schools boost reading scores and self esteem.

Holiday programs. N2N has offered a Christmas store every December for the past 24 years. Last year 1600 families registered and received enough food for breakfast, lunch and dinner on Christmas Day, a family gift, stocking stuffers and a special toy for every child aged 12 and under in the family.

How to give. N2N directs donation dollars to the place you specify. Sponsor a community garden as a gift for your favourite green thumb or donate to the reading tutoring program as an extra-meaningful teacher’s present. You can also donate money, food or a new, unwrapped toy to the Christmas Store program. Director of development, Doug Farraway, predicts that toys may be in short supply this year. Your time is a precious gift in itself—join the more than 600 volunteers whose hands and hearts make N2N’s Christmas store program come to life. Get all the volunteer application details on the web or call the office.

Catholic Family Services

The back story. For more than 60 years, Catholic Family Services has been helping Hamiltonians experiencing hard times find solutions, support and stability. Counselling and case management services help those who are struggling to pay the bills, need a listening ear or want practical strategies to move forward. “We serve people of every race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, ability and age,” says executive director Linda Dayler. “You don’t have to be Catholic to come to Catholic Family Services.”

Holiday programs. Starting in late October every year, the non-profit organization runs its Miracles on Main Street program, offering a Christmas to those who might otherwise not get one. Last year the program provided grocery store certificates, clothing and gifts to 170 adults and children from 81 families who were identified as being in need by counsellors and case managers at Catholic Family Services.

How to give. “Make a miracle happen” by sponsoring an individual or family as part of the Miracles on Main Street program with a monetary donation or, if shopping is your bag, you can get the wish list for your special recipient and hit the mall yourself. A number of local businesses have sent Secret Santa on his way and instead get together as an office to sponsor a family (or two or three). For more information, send an email or phone 905-527-3823.

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