As soon as Natala Annenkova drove into their driveway last Tuesday morning, the Neighbourhood Network team was ready to go. In the blink of an eye, they filled the Children’s Treatment Network representative’s car with everything from laundry detergent to diapers.
Everyday things, sure, but for some people in the community, these are essential items that are just out of reach.
The Children’s Treatment Network is one of several community organizations who partnered with Neighbourhood Network this year on the latter’s Holiday Gift Card Drive, a new spin on their annual gift drive, to serve people in need across five York Region municipalities.
Last month, Neighbourhood Network put out a call for gift cards, along with wish lists from several local families and opportunities for individuals and companies to team up and “adopt” a family for the holiday season.
And the community answered – with everything from the essentials above to a computer, a PlayStation, and even a couch.
“This year, our goal was a holiday gift card drive,” explains Neighbourhood Network’s Tanya Dennis. “We accepted gift cards and essential needs, and people were even donating PPE and toilet paper. So far, we have helped support 36 families in the community and different groups. It has been very successful and even though COVID is here, we have managed to kind of restructure and re-think our distribution and take ourselves out of the middle. We have been making connections directly to those who want to support organizations in need.
“This has been such a difficult year. You’re somewhat hesitant to ask, but people are still just so giving despite the situation and what we’re all living through right now. They are the simple asks.”
When Neighbourhood Network receives wish lists from families, the team is often struck by how simple these asks actually are. According to Ms. Dennis, moms, dads and guardians often ask for towels, laundry detergent, and basic items for their kids – including sensory toys, for example, for children living with special needs.
Then, of course, there are the stand-out asks and the stand-out acts that fulfil them.
“One family in need had asked for a couch and the company that sponsored them ended up giving the family a couch, plus other items on their wish list,” says Ms. Dennis. “Another family requested a PlayStation. The people sponsoring the family found one new on Kijiji and when the seller heard the story and who the PlayStation was going to, he dropped the price in half to support the family. Specsavers in Newmarket dropped off $2,295 worth of cash and gift cards.
“These are just a few stories that stand out this year. The community has really come together despite the difficult times we have all been faced with. The people who have adopted families have all been extremely generous. We have also heard back from some of the families who required support this year and they are beyond grateful. Some are even speechless. Lots of happy tears have been shed.”
Neighbourhood Network’s Holiday Gift Card Drive came to a close on Friday, December 18, and, as the team approached the finish line, they knew their work was far from over. As of Tuesday, they had fulfilled every need that had come in by that point, but they knew last minute requests would probably be in the offing.
“Right now, we’re doing a Social ask for pyjamas because that’s all one family is asking for,” said Ms. Dennis. “We’ll see what comes in this week, but we’re really hopeful and confident we’re going to meet the needs. Going forward [into next year’s drive] we’re going to continue with the holiday gift cards because it allows the guardian the opportunity to shop for their loved ones as opposed to us trying to figure out what their child needs.”
For more in Neighbourhood Network, including how to become involved, visit neighbourhoodnetwork.org.
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran