With the holidays fast approaching, thoughts often turn to cheer, gift giving and spending time with loved ones. But for many in both the city and the LGBT community, the season can also be a painful reminder of economic disparity and personal hardship.
Recognizing this overwhelming need, many charitable organizations will be launching their annual holiday campaigns in the coming weeks as a way to help struggling Torontonians make it through the holiday season with dignity.
“[Our] holiday campaign revolves around the increased needs of our clients this season,” says Robert Pierre Tomas, the director of philanthropy and communications at the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (PWA). “The traditional season of cheer may not be so cheerful for those living on the socioeconomic margins of the society or suffering the stigma and social isolation that frequently accompanies the HIV diagnosis. Many of them are disconnected from their families due to the negative attitudes around sexuality, HIV status or substance use.”
Established 26 years ago, PWA was formed in response to the AIDS crisis and the lack of direct support available for those living with — and rapidly dying from — the virus. Since then, PWA has grown to be Canada's largest provider of direct support services to people living in Toronto with HIV/AIDS.
“We serve 2,300-plus clients and provide for them over 200,000 significant unique services, ranging from financial support, housing assistance referrals, medical and medication referrals, complementary therapies, harm reduction assistance, holistic well-being, life coaching and social integration,” Tomas says.
In partnership with Proud FM, the foundation will be conducting its annual Joy Drive (which runs until Dec 20) in multiple locations across the city. Members of the community are encouraged to drop off non-perishable foods that will be distributed to clients.
“Each year we collect approximately 1.5 tons of food through the Joy Drive and, of course, the amazing generosity of local businesses and residents,” Tomas says. “A big portion of our mandate remains food security for our clients. Through [programs like] Essentials Market and Food for Life, we ensure that this essential need is met every day.”
Youth are also a key focus for many charities during the holidays. The Starlight Children’s Foundation Canada offers up services geared toward improving the quality of life for seriously ill children and their families.
Every year, the Starlight Children’s Foundation releases a limited-edition stuffed bear designed by a Starlight child. Seven-year-old Dylan, who lives with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, designed this year’s bear, called Beario.
“For the last five years, we've been lucky enough to have the opportunity to provide one child with the experience of designing their own stuffed bear,” says Starlight representative Cory Stewart. “With the help of his big brother Connor, Dylan modelled the bear after his favourite video game character, Super Mario.”
Alongside the bear, which sells for $14.99, the organization has also launched its 16th annual Star campaign. Running until Dec 29, Toys R Us customers can purchase “stars” in-store or online by providing a donation value of their choice.
All the proceeds from the Star campaign will go toward funding Starlight’s in- and out-of-hospital programming, which includes fun kits, hospital grants, Fun Centres (equipped with a DVD player, Nintendo Wii, games and movies) and Day Brighteners (tickets to sports games, concerts and more) for families in need.
PWA will also be offering a gift certificate program for children in need, as well as a Christmas hamper, providing some 800 families of clients with a bundle of personal care and gift items.
“Children of our clients, whether HIV-positive themselves or not, deserve to have the celebrations of the season just like everybody else,” Tomas says. “That is why we are providing their parents with [the resources to] buy them toys or other gifts they could not otherwise afford.”
A selection of ways you can give back this season
Toronto People with AIDS Foundation
PWA organized the Pie in the Sky Bake-Off on Nov 17, a cooking school designed to raise awareness of its cause featuring Loblaws executive chef Mark Russell. The foundation has a number of different holiday initiatives, including the Joy Drive (wherein members of the community are encouraged to drop off non-perishable food items), a gift certificate program (gift certificates at department stores for kids in need), a Christmas hamper program (providing some 800 families of clients with a bundle of personal care and gift items) and a traditional seasonal party, A Starry Night, for its clients, this year to be hosted at the Paintbox in Regent Park.
At press time, the specific holiday drive had yet to be announced, but previous years included financial contributions, as well as gifts of new toys, books, winter hats, scarves and gloves. As a representative of the centre notes, “Contribution comes in many forms — from money to time, support, advocacy, volunteerism, community leadership — and through the year we try to address this in various ways.”
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
Buddies recently held its annual ArtAttack auction, raising a record $75,000 for the theatre’s artistic programs and services. But beyond that? “Ten dollars a month goes a long way, especially at a place like Buddies. With such broad community support, those $10 add up pretty quick,” says Mark Aikman, director of development and communications. “Or come see a show and maybe bring a friend who's never been, have a drink at the bar — everything helps.”
Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives
The CLGA just had its Fowl Supper 40th anniversary gala, which brought in some funds, but as the largest independent LGBT archive in the world, financial contributions are always welcome, as are the donation of materials for the collection.
Aside from one-time or monthly donations that the organization welcomes, Casey House is in the midst of its Rebuilding Lives Capital Campaign, which is an initiative to raise $10 million in private funds for the construction of new facilities and expand on HIV/AIDS specialty healthcare services. So far, it’s raised $6.4 million from early contributions.
AIDS Committee of Toronto
Individual donations are always welcome, and events will be held throughout December — including Getting to Zero: A Comedy Show for World AIDS Day, Dec 1 at Comedy Bar, with all proceeds going to ACT.
Starlight Children’s Foundation
Starlight just launched the 16th annual Star campaign. Running until Dec 29, customers can purchase “stars” in-store or online at Toys R Us locations by providing a donation, with proceeds going directly to Starlight Canada. They can also purchase the collectible bear for $14.99. Since introducing the program during the 1998 holiday season, the organization has been able to raise more than $11 million — with $1.5 million being raised last year alone.
This holiday season, Supporting Our Youth is doing a Raising the Roof Toque campaign. Some of the proceeds from toque sales at venues across the city between now and the end of February will support SOY's Monday night drop-in, which works with up to 50 homeless and street-involved youth each week.
LGBT Youth Line
The biggest fundraising initiatives will be in 2014 to coincide with WorldPride and the 20th anniversary of the Youth Line, but the organization will be holding a direct-mail fundraising drive in December in order to help continue offering up support services to young queer people.
Amnesty works internationally to protect human rights, including the rights of LGBT people. This year it's asking Canadians to give to its Gift of Freedom campaign, which has a variety of denominations for holiday giving.