Theft of Christmas gifts for low-income families heartbreaking, says charity

It was only once Adrian Benjamin arrived at his charity’s Blake House property in Vanier did he open the trunk of his SUV to discover gifts meant for the building's tenants were gone — with only these empty boxes remaining.  (Submitted by Adrian Benjamin - image credit)
It was only once Adrian Benjamin arrived at his charity’s Blake House property in Vanier did he open the trunk of his SUV to discover gifts meant for the building's tenants were gone — with only these empty boxes remaining. (Submitted by Adrian Benjamin - image credit)

An Ottawa housing charity says it's hoping other donors come forward after Christmas gifts meant for 26 low-income families were stolen overnight Thursday.

The gifts were wrapped at Multifaith Housing Initiative's property in Barrhaven, known as The Haven, and then packed into the trunk of an SUV belonging to Adrian Benjamin, the charity's community engagement manager.

Benjamin left the vehicle overnight on his driveway in Barrhaven.  It was only when he arrived the next day at the charity's Blake House property in Vanier that he discovered the gifts were gone, with only empty boxes remaining.

"I was stunned. I was shocked," said Benjamin, who believes he locked his vehicle overnight but can't be certain.

"I was brought to tears because I emailed them and told them I was coming. And it then made me realize that I couldn't fulfil a dream for them."

The Multifaith Housing Initiative says it has filed a report with police.

Included toys, grocery gift certificates

The presents included toys, 2023 calendars and gift cards to local grocery stores valued at $600. Various community partners trying to brighten the tenants' holiday season donated the gifts.

The charity, which provides housing to low-income people at five locations scattered across Ottawa, hasn't celebrated Christmas for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Benjamin said bad weather over the holidays kept him from delivering the Blake House gifts until after Dec. 25.

"I don't even know if some of those children got anything for Christmas," he said, adding he's hopeful other donations will be made so the families' holidays aren't a total loss.

Mara Watson, who lives at The Haven, said she and a small group work to ensure every child gets at least one gift at Christmas.

She called the theft "heartbreaking."

'How do you tell them?'

"Some of these kids don't get hardly anything in their lives. And I mean they struggle, you know, Their families struggle," she said. "So it gives us unbelievable joy to be together doing this."

What makes the theft particularly devastating, according to Watson, is that they had told the family they were coming — with the children expecting gifts.

"How do you tell them?" asked Watson, getting teary-eyed over the phone.

While she believes thieves are often coping with their own tough circumstances, what happened still rubs her the wrong way.

"In a case like this, when they take so much, it's not that they really need it," she said. "I just feel that it was greedy, you know? Or malicious."