The countdown to Christmas is officially on.
But with less than a month to the big day, Santa and his elves aren’t the only ones being kept busy — organizations around the region are gearing up as well.
This year, a well-known holiday charity is expanding to Durham.
Setting up and decorating a Christmas tree is more than a tradition for Sarah Rutka. It’s a symbol of giving back.
“We started with one family, it soon grew to seven families and 20 families. This year we’re helping 600 families,” said Sarah Rutka, co-founder of Holiday Helpers.
For the past 22 years, Rutka and her sister have been supporting those who otherwise might not have been able to celebrate Christmas.
This year, Holiday Helpers is expanding for the first time and will bring joy to 40 families in Durham.
“We had a lot of requests from Durham, from families in Oshawa and Pickering who needed the help and we were turning people down because it was a little too far for us to deliver,” said Rutka. “So when we decided to expand, Durham was the next place we wanted to go.”
It’s taken months of planning and preparation, including finding donors.
Lisa Pickering has been donating to Holiday Helpers for six years. Being a local, she’s happy to be supporting a family in her region.
“It makes me sad that not everybody has a positive experience during the holidays and so being involved in this, I can help one family a year, making sure that they have a holiday experience,” said Pickering.
“They’re families with young children, they’re considered to be low-income, a lot of them are single moms who left abusive relationships or they’re new families to Canada.”
Of the 40 families receiving help this Christmas, 10 are from The Denise House.
“There isn’t this kind of support currently in Durham Region for these women, so it is huge that they are getting this support, it’s just unbelievable for them. They feel like it’s better than Christmas,” said Melanie Guy with The Denise House.
The Family Worship Centre in Pickering will act as Santa’s workshop for the holiday helpers as they prepare packages in the middle of December.
“Now we’re just looking for help to purchase each family a Christmas tree and decorations and really get the program off the ground so we can continue to help more families next year and the year after,” said Rutka.