Saskatoon Christmas charities, toy drives struggle during COVID-19 pandemic

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WATCH: From fundraising targets to volunteer recruitment, COVID-19 has put a huge strain on Saskatoon's charitable and non-profit sectors ahead of Christmas – Nov 18, 2020

Saskatoon Christmas charities and toy drives face unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, while still providing for a population hit hard by the economic effects of the coronavirus.

Saskatoon’s famed caroling firefighters typically bring in $25,000 to $35,000 per year for the Secret Santa Foundation, according to foundation board president Vic Dubois. Due to group size restrictions, the firefighter event has been cancelled, along with countless others.

Read more: Officials say to avoid Christmas travel in B.C. this year due to COVID-19 pandemic

The Secret Santa Foundation is only accepting monetary donations this year, and officials say they will also draw on reserves in order to pay for 800 food and toy hampers in 2020.

“A lot of people are either unemployed or they’ve gone from full-time employment to part-time employment,” Dubois said.

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“There’s more need this year, I believe, than ever.”

TLC@Home, the holiday charity Global Saskatoon and Global Regina support, will still compile shoeboxes stuffed with toys. However, TLC@Home founder Shelley James said COVID-19 has impacted almost every aspect of the operation.

Boxes of toys will need to sit in shipping crates for three days to ensure they’re not contaminated with the coronavirus, she said. And unlike previous years, in-person deliveries won’t happen in joyous group settings at schools.

James said donations are down, and like the Secret Santa Foundation, TLC@Home will need to draw from its reserves. Despite the pandemic, she said the event has to go forward.

“I think it’s more important than ever,” James said.

Read more: TLC@Home delivers Christmas gifts to nearly 1,000 children in Saskatoon

In May, Imagine Canada’s Sector Monitor report detailed some of the early struggles for charities during the pandemic. At that point, nearly three-quarters of charities had experienced lower donation figures since the start of the pandemic. Nearly half of charities reported difficulty in engaging with volunteers.

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Some charities struggling during COVID-19 pandemic – Oct 24, 2020

Eight months into Canada’s battle with COVID-19, even one of its largest charities faces a challenging fundraising season. The Salvation Army has a $23-million goal to help Canadians in need this year, and spokesperson John Murray told The Canadian Press the demand is at its highest point since the Second World War.

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Saskatoon’s Salvation Army kettle fundraising target was set a year in advance, and remains at $350,000. COVID-19 has also meant fewer suitable locations for bell-ringing volunteers.

“This year, we’ll have eight kettles out starting on Dec. 1. Whereas last year we had 18 out and we started on Nov. 15,” said Salvation Army community services director Matthew Hoeft.

The kettle program primarily goes toward the Christmas hamper program, which is expected to bring meals and toys to 5,000 households, Hoeft said.

People can also donate to the Salvation Army through its online kettle page or the Santas Anonymous program, which matches donors with households of various sizes.

Read more: Salvation Army holiday kettle drive faces challenges amid coronavirus

The ‘Be a Santa to a Senior’ program also faces hardship in 2020.

For the past 10 years, organizers connected seniors in long-term care with volunteers who bring a small gift to their home. The primary focus has been on in-person interactions to help elderly people feel less isolated.

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Senior Isolation – Nov 17, 2020

With COVID-19 restrictions, that can’t happen.

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“Be a Santa as we know it will not be happening,” said organizer Greg Charyna in an interview.

Instead, this year volunteers will be encouraged to find ways – often virtual – to connect with seniors they already know or who might live in their neighbourhood.

“We all have stuff. What we don’t have sometimes is that personal connection.”