Toronto
3 min

Santa’s helpers

Homos do pitch in

TOY BOX. Spearhead's Mark Wilson and Michael Morrell go the through the loot. Credit: Dean Tomlinson

Some people have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the holiday spirit. But there are those who see the season for what it is – a time of reaching out to those less fortunate and getting joy from giving.



They’re all around us in the lesbian and gay community, sometimes in the least likely places. Spearhead, the leather/denim social club, has been conducting a toys for tots drive for more than 30 years.



Club vice-president Estevan DeCastro admits that toy drives are not necessarily the first image that springs to mind when one thinks of butch leathermen, but says, “Look at the motorcycle clubs, they do it as well.”



Spearhead is asking lesbian and gay people to help by donating unwrapped toys and Canadian Tire money, which can be dropped off at Woody’s (465 Church St), Trax V (592 Yonge St), Zipperz (72 Carlton St), The Black Eagle (457 Church St), Bar 501 (501 Church St) and The Toolbox (508 Eastern Ave) until Sun, Dec 1. Spearhead members will be collecting toys from those bars that day between 2pm and 6pm. In addition there will be special charity drives at Trax V on Thu, Nov 27 after 10pm and at Bar 501 on Sat, Nov 30 between 2pm and 6pm.



“We simply wanted to do something to be of value to the community,” says past president Terry Thompson. “It started as small gesture, really, but it’s gone kind of mad the past few years, especially since Bunny and Burger from Bar 501 got involved – Burger’s penny drive alone raised $3,400 last year.”



Spearhead distributes toys to some six different charities throughout Toronto, in particular WoodGreen’s Red Door Shelter for abused family members.



The children’s program at the 519 Community Centre also benefits from Spearhead’s toys. Each year toys are distributed to needy children throughout the downtown neighbourhood. The students of the National Ballet School contribute to this worthy cause, as does CHUM/City and many others. The program welcomes donations of unwrapped, gender-neutral and hopefully non-violent toys, which can be dropped off at The 519 (519 Church St) before Thu, Dec 12.



Program manager Nicci Stein says the children’s party the centre hosts Sat, Dec 7 at 10:30am is called a festive holiday party, rather than a Christmas party, so that all people of diverse backgrounds will feel welcome.



Helen Rykens, The 519 office manager, identifies a particular need during the holiday season. Each year the centre serves meals on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.



“We open on those days particularly because other programs for homeless people, especially faith-based, are closed,” says Rykens. “There’s a lot of Christmas dinners, so we do the other days. People need to eat every day.”



Rykens says that because other agencies serve turkey, The 519 serves roast beef for a change.



“It’s always a nutritious meal, and there are vegetarian alternatives so everyone will be welcome,” she says. The meals are funded mainly by the City Of Toronto Homeless Initiative Fund and the United Way, an agency Rykens says is vital to the centre’s existence.



Problem is, Boxing Day and News Year’s are typically days when people are home recovering from the day before. Volunteer coordinator Bill Ekins says helpers are needed at The 519, starting at 7:30am on each of those days. There are a variety of shifts available between 7:30am and 5:30pm, helping to set up, prepare and cook and serve the food, and then clean up afterwards.



Helping hands are also sought for the regular Sunday meals on Dec 22 and 29.



Other groups are helping for the holidays as well. Bar 501 will for the fourth year display Christmas art made by kids from The 519 children’s program to raise money for the centre.



“The one and only Burger will be in your face for donations on Bingo nights,” laughs bartender Jes.



Casey House runs an annual seasonal party for both residents and some 120 community clients, as well as a traditional Christmas dinner.



Communications director Todd Minerson says they are helped by “a number of groups, especially the Elves Group from Montreal, who donate gifts and Christmas stockings,” but they always welcome donations. Toronto People With AIDS holds a holiday dinner and show Mon, Dec 2 for clients and volunteers, which will be held this year at the Phoenix Concert Theatre (410 Sherbourne St).



The Metropolitan Community Church Of Toronto has been working since 1991 with the Toronto Star Christmas Box Program, delivering completed boxes to a large area surrounding the church.



Organizer Ernie Lacasse says volunteers with cars are needed both Sat, Dec 7 at 10:30am and again on Sun, Dec 8 after the 11am service.



* The WoodGreen Red Door Shelter can be reached at (416) 423-0310. Volunteers for the 519 Community Centre (519 Church St) can call Bill Ekins at (416) 392-6878, ext 106. If you’d like to deliver boxes for the Metropolitan Community Church Of Toronto, please leave your name and contact information at (416) 406-6228, ext 114.