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Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions gift drive in dire need of help

'Anything extra like holiday gifts and toys is not really in a lot of people’s budgets,' official lamented, noting referrals to the program have spiked 22 per cent

Christmas is a time for giving and the Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions is hoping residents in the region are in the spirit.

The local child and family services agency is once again running its annual Holiday Program, which supports local families who are struggling by providing Christmas gifts and hampers based on their level of financial need during the holiday season.

The program started approximately 20 years ago out of an empty cubicle in their Bell Farm Road head office in Barrie, but has since grown to require a 5,000-square-foot warehouse to accommodate the gathering and distribution of items, she added.

“It’s quite an endeavour," said Jasmine Botter, the agency's communications co-ordinator. She said the program served approximately 3,000 children, youth, caregivers, and families in 2021.

“It’s a big program and lots of packages go out, not just to clients of our agency but also to community partner agencies," said Botter.

As of Nov. 17, Botter said the program still had around 50 families and 30 independent youth who needed sponsorship.

“It’s still quite substantial and a big undertaking for us if we needed to go out of pocket to package all of those,” she said. “Just between this year and last, we’ve had an increase in referrals of 22 per cent, which is substantial. We were expecting that.

"We run a Basic Needs Program throughout the year that we have seen an increased need for, so anything extra like holiday gifts and toys is not really in a lot of people’s budgets," Botter added.

Residents can register online by clicking here to sponsor a local family or independent youth and can choose the size of the family, the ages and the genders.

“It’s very much tailored to what your budget is and who you wish to sponsor. We find the best match within our database and give you their personalized wish list. Then you can go shopping for them," Botter said. 

While the need for help is greater, they are also seeing an increase in people stepping up to help out others in need, she added.

“We see it in the news all the time, so it’s definitely on people’s minds more. I feel like those who are in a position to help out are feeling compelled to help," Botter said. 

Jerome Ben-Tolilia, the agency's bilingual manager of communications and community relations, said they have been a lot more active on social media in the hopes of garnering more attention for the program. 

“We've made it bilingual as well so we can reach out to the francophone community, which is pretty significant in Simcoe and Muskoka. We received a lot of support. It’s amazing to see everyone coming together," Ben-Tolilia said. 

The program, added Botter, is a great way for families, friends and even co-workers to bond while also helping others. 

“Everyone’s efforts go towards doing something really positive in their community. I have seen people have a lot of fun doing it,” she said. “We are grateful for everything the community gives us and every small thing everyone gives makes such a big difference.”

This Christmas, the program is set to sponsor upwards of 3,600 individuals and families.

“It’s a great way to spread positivity and light in a climate — economically and politically — that has been kind of dark in the past few years,” added Botter. “It’s great for the community to come together and spread hope and cheer at the end of the year.”