Gerri Frascione knew she couldn't celebrate this Christmas with gatherings the way she used to.
So this holiday season, she gathered her work team to give back to their community by volunteering with local community organization Sun Youth, like she used to a few years ago. She said when her daughter was 10 years old, she brought her to volunteer.
"She said 'Mommy, thank you for showing me the true meaning of Christmas, it's really about giving back' so that stayed with me," said Frascione.
This year, Sun Youth had 5,000 families register for Christmas baskets. Though the pandemic has left more families in need, company donations are down 30 per cent, which pressures community organizations like Sun Youth to do more with less.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says between labour shortages, supply chain issues and inflation, many can't give as much to charity.
Yet community organizations are facing a real need. People can make a difference in their communities by giving their time, money, or toy and food donations to local charities, Richard Daneau, the executive director of Moisson Montréal, said.
What's the best way to give?
Though food donations are appreciated by food banks, Daneau says cash is typically the best way to donate because of the flexibility it gives organizations.
Michael Labelle, board chair of the West Island Assistance Fund in Roxboro, agrees.
"I would tell people right now, don't buy food to donate to a food bank," he said.
"We have access to bulk pricing and the other thing too is if you make a donation to us, you get a tax credit. So I'm saying please don't go out to buy food to donate, make a donation, they can just write in that they want it for food."
Toys are an important part of Christmas baskets and donations are lacking, said Eric Kingsley, director of emergency services at Sun Youth.
"There's food coming in. There's still room for people to buy toys for older kids. It's still a need. We like to put in new toys for the baskets," he said.
But, for organizations like On Rock, which includes a food bank, a café and a thrift shop, food donations are always appreciated as donations tend to dry up after the holidays.
"People are incredibly generous, but I would say a lot of the food we collect now, we could also use after Christmas," said Kim Reid, the founder and president of On Rock.
"I'm willing to take as much food as I can get because I know I can spread it out over the next couple of months if I have that surplus. It just makes it easier in the New Year."
Time is another invaluable resource.
"Every volunteer makes a difference," said Kingsley.
"We rely a lot on the community for volunteers and they put in a great shift and there's still shifts available."
When it comes to deciding how to give — and to whom — community actors like Reid and Daneau urge people to do their research. Ultimately, they say, the best way to give is every donor's choice.
A lot of people are reluctant to donate money because they aren't sure how it will be used, so Reid says to check out organizations' websites or to even give food banks a visit.
"The community is incredibly generous this time of year but you have to direct your generosity to places that are going to be effective," he said. "Food banks suffer when people withhold their money because they aren't sure what we're all about."