A group of locals are acting more like elves these days as they delivered Christmas in June for those living with mental health issues, and others in need, in Acton.
Through the summer version of its Christmas bag program, Santa’s Helpers collected approximately $5,000 worth of essentials such as toothpaste, razors, shampoo, and deodorant, along with clothes and goodies, and recently distributed them to Acton group homes. In total, 93 personalized bags with more than 2,000 items were donated.
The group isn't a charity or a not-for-profit - it’s just people doing good work for their community.
“We’re not an organization that has a bank account - we’re doing this on a wing and a prayer,” said Kathleen Dills, a volunteer with Santa’s Helpers. “Each of us has a motivation to be here and do it, but it can be tricky. People have to trust that we’re going to do what we say.”
Originally, the group only donated bags at Christmas – hence the name – but organizers decided that wasn't enough.
Now, after having donated bags twice a year for a few years, the people in the homes are expecting them and looking forward to getting their own gifts.
“Tim Hortons will donate gift cards, and the recipients will get so excited to use it just to be able to grab a coffee on their own; it’s a wonderful experience for them,” said Dills.
Being with the recipients when they open the bags is a favourite part for the volunteers.
Barb Edmundson, who has been volunteering with Santa’s Helpers since the program started, says it’s wonderful to see everyone outside waiting for them.
“They’ll be outside, warm or cold, even at Christmas time they’ll be standing outside the house in their coats,” she said.
Santa’s Helpers relies on donations from the community, whether they be money or products, and often approaches churches in the area to ask congregations to have every person bring in an item like a tube of toothpaste. The group is exploring new options to get donations this year as well.
The items gifted are primarily personal care, grooming items, and new clothes because of the late Dr. John Dougan, a psychiatrist with the North Halton Mental Health Clinic, who thought that the better put together a person was, the better they were treated. But the items are also meant to provide a sense of ownership over the day.
“When you start the day by taking care of yourself, making the bed, and dressing well, even if you have challenges, the little things will make you feel good,” Dills said.
The group aims to provide another set of gift bags to residents of the homes for Christmas 2023, and again in the summer of 2024. Anyone interested in helping can contact Dills at [email protected].