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Trump Santa with Gifts, trees and all

In 1999, April Rutka, member of Bloor West BNI, and her sister Sarah heard about a family in their community whose house had burnt down. When they learned that the family did not have a Christmas tree, they dropped one off, much to the family’s delight. The next year they did the same for three others. The year after, the number grew to five. Before long, Holiday Helpers was born.

April Rutka, member of Bloor West BNI, runs Holiday Helpers, a grassroots charity. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Since then, the charity has grown to provide Christmas packages for 200 low-income families every year, with help from some 300 volunteers. Recipients are often single-parent households living on a total income of less than $25,000.

The 100-per-cent volunteer-run organization no longer offers artificial trees alone. In a deliberate effort to provide further poverty relief, Holiday Helpers’ packages now include winter clothes along with gift certificates for holiday meals.

The packages are put together over the course of a weekend (this year, Dec. 16-18) and distributed the following Monday.

“It’s almost like a wedding. It all happens within a two-to-three-hour period,” explains April Rutka, founder and president.

Karen Richards has been volunteering with the Rutka sisters for over a decade, and has seen the organization grow from its modest basement beginnings to a formidable presence on the holiday charitable circuit. In her current role as its volunteer manager, Ms. Richards enjoys seeing many participants who make it a family tradition to show up every year.

“On weekends, you see a lot of families. You see moms and dads and a couple of little kids. We even have volunteers who have been past recipients,” she says.

Lisa Foster, 31, is a single parent and one such former beneficiary of the Holiday Helpers packages. “Before, you’d have to go somewhere for perishable foods and you’d have to go somewhere else and you’d get a tree. When Holiday Helpers started, it was like Santa coming to my house.”

She hopes to return the favour one day. “I’ll be finishing my business degree at Seneca College soon. Maybe I can give back at that point,” says Ms. Foster.

May Jeong

Holiday Helpers

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