Though often hidden, poverty is very real in Dufferin communities and impacts families year-round. For many, though, this impact is felt more heavily during the holidays.
The effects of the pandemic have made this even more apparent.
“COVID-19 has added many stressors and pressures on families, including financial burdens, and unemployment,” said Jennifer Moore, Executive Director of Dufferin Child and Family Services.
“Research indicates that already marginalized groups are most impacted by COVID-19 and its various effects.”
There are a number of local initiatives that normally take place during the holidays, which are designed to provide support and care for those in need. The current situation has demonstrated how much more they are needed in 2020.
“More people finding themselves in a challenging position, and more are unable to gather together due to restrictions and more,” said Sgt. Paul Neumann of the Shelburne Police Service.
Although the pandemic has raised questions about how some of these initiatives may look, a number of them will continue to operate this year.
This includes the annual Stuff a Cruiser Toy and Food Drive hosted by the Shelburne Police in support of Dufferin Child and Family Services and the Salvation Army Food Bank.
“We want to support the various people in need in and around our community,” said Neumann.
The drive has been held for more than 20 years, generating a large amount of support from the Shelburne community.
“It’s always been a great response by everyone,” said Neumann.
Each year, the drive brings in thousands of dollars in cash and gift cards from the public, and the trailer where donated toys and gifts are stored is typically half to three quarters full. Giant Tiger also annually participates, resulting in several thousand dollars in donations most years.
Moore noted that community support is incredibly important for families who are working hard to juggle often precarious, minimum wage employment in the midst of trying to prioritize basic living expenses.
“For a community to wrap around and support children, youth and families allows for people to not have to choose between meeting basic needs and providing some of the extras that are normative during the holiday season,” she said. “But more importantly, it helps people know they are not alone and that their community cares about them.”
This year, DCAFS and Shelburne Police are asking people to consider donating gift cards or making cash donations rather than items.
“From a dignity perspective, gift cards allow parents to shop for their children in the same way that those of us privileged enough to do so without community supports can,” explained Moore.
But other factors play a role as well, particularly from an infection control perspective, as gift cards are easier to clean and distribute, and DCAFS is limited in their ability to manage the toy donations safely.
“Although we know donors sometimes feel that an item may mean more, this year is just totally different than any other before,” noted Moore. “We would really encourage people to consider gift cards.”
If someone wishes to make a physical donation, only toys in their original packaging and new clothes will be accepted. Shelburne Police will have a table set up for people to set those donations on.
“Before it goes to anyone else, we’ll make sure it’s all sanitized, then it will move on to either Salvation Army or DCAFS,” said Neumann. “Everywhere has their own kind of protocols as well to ensure the safety of the item.”
“Our actions as a collective during the pandemic will impact the negative effects on individuals,” said Moore. “We remain incredibly grateful to be part of such a generous and giving community.
“There are people in situations where they could use that little bit of extra cheer or support during a season that is also often very difficult on those same individuals,” added Neumann.
The Stuff a Cruiser Toy and Food Drive will be held on Friday, Dec. 4 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Tim and Heather's No Frills in Shelburne and on Friday, Dec. 11 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Foodland/Giant Tiger Plaza.
Correction notice: An earlier press release from Shelburne Police identified the No Frills drive occurring on Dec. 11 and Giant Tiger on Dec. 4. They have since updated this information, and the update has been adjusted in the article.
Tabitha Wells/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Orangeville Banner