You know it's love that drives Ralphy's Retreat Animal Sanctuary to donate more than 300 children's stocking stuffers to Linda's Gifting Project when they are in need of donations themselves.
"The community gives to us, so we thought we would give back to the community," said Alice Keith, a volunteer with Ralphy's Retreat, a registered non-profit organization.
Linda Pearce, from Washago, has been putting together up to 2,000 gift packages for children and women in the shelter system at Christmas and Easter for more than 20 years.
"(She) and her husband support the program off their own pension, so we thought we'd give back to another non-profit. Kids and animals go hand in hand. It makes the community go in full circle," Keith said as a rooster crowed in the background.
Ralphy's Retreat is located on a five-acre farm in Waverley. It is at maximum capacity with 120 animals while seeing a decrease in monthly donations.
It costs about $100,000 a year to operate the farm. That keeps all the animals fed, housed and receiving vet care, said Shannon Leguizamon, property owner and rescue manager.
"Unfortunately, this last year has been really difficult due to the economic climate. Our monthly sponsorships are really low right now. That's absolutely our big need," she said.
Ralphy's big Christmas fundraiser is now running in an effort to keep the barn doors open. Each day, an animal is profiled on Ralphy's social media pages in hopes of attracting sponsorship.
"People can sign up to sponsor them for as little as $10 a month," said Leguizamon. "It's an awesome Christmas gift for kids to teach compassion and kindness. It's good for the soul. It's good for the animals. It's a win-win all around."
Sponsors get a photo of the animal, updates and an invitation to the supporter appreciation day.
On the farm are 80 pigs — 78 pot-bellied pigs and two full-sized pigs — horses, donkeys, alpacas, goats, chickens, roosters, rabbits, cats and dogs. They all have a story.
Pot-bellied pig Charlie was found wandering the streets of Bradford, emaciated and full of mange. At six months old, he weighed only 10 pounds. Another pot-bellied pig, Forest, was found by a farmer wandering a local forest. He was clearly an abandoned pet.
"Abuse and abandonment of pot-bellied pigs is huge," said Keith.
Ralphy's gets animals from the public, from the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and from the People's Animal Welfare Society of Toronto, and works with other rescues and sanctuaries.
"The work Shannon does is phenomenal," said Keith. "Our animals get amazing care. We make sure they live their best lives."
Ralphy's animals get veterinary care from North Simcoe Veterinary Services, including spaying and neutering, hoof trims, laser and chiropractic care.
The sanctuary has been operating for 20 years, originally in Norfolk County. It moved to the Waverley property in December 2021, when the original founder had to sell the farm after being diagnosed with cancer.
"I offered to take one pig and I ended up with the sanctuary," said Leguizamon.
"We weren't prepared to run an animal sanctuary, so we've been gradually renovating and building buildings as our funds and volunteers allow. All of our funds come from donations and fundraisers. We receive no government funding," she explained.
"Sixty per cent of the animals are aged or have a disability, so we need to ensure we have enough funds to take care of the residents that we currently have."
Ralphy's also offers animal education through on-site tours and outreach.
A can and bottle drive fundraiser is running until Jan. 15, with the following drop-off locations:
- 39 Darby Rd., Wyebridge (donation bin at top of drive)
- 164 Diana Dr., Orillia
- 62 Marchand Rd., Lafontaine, Tiny Beaches
- 30 Jeffrey St., Barrie
- 87 Warminster Sideroad (between Line 7 and Line 8), Warminster
- 388 Keller Dr., Midland
- 1131/1137 Mosley St., Wasaga Beach
Ralphy's Retreat is always looking for more volunteers.
Those wanting more information, to make a donation or to volunteer can email [email protected], call 705-817-3757, or visit ralphysretreat.ca. The sanctuary can also be found on Facebook and Instagram.