All he wanted for Christmas was to be a part of the Share Christmas program, because receiving gifts from strangers made the holidays the only time of the year when he felt anyone actually cared about him.
But this man is one of hundreds who may not be receiving any Christmas gifts through the program this year, thanks to the mayor and 24 councillors at city hall, who voted Sept. 26 to scrap funding to the city’s Christmas Bureau.
Linda Curley, volunteer coordinator at the Birchmount Bluffs Neighbourhood Centre can’t put a name to the man’s face, but he stands out to her as the reason for the centre’s Share Christmas program.
But it’s about more than just Christmas, Curley said.
“The Christmas bureau doesn’t just give out toys to children and families in need. It connects [the community], ensuring that [these] families are assisted through the winter months.”
The Share Christmas program is just one of many across Toronto that partners with the Christmas Bureau, which has worked since 1956 to coordinate the distribution of gifts and donations to families across the city each year.
The BBNC has not received any information as to what is going to happen to their own program – the city has proposed letting someone else take over the Christmas Bureau but has not specified who – but executive director Enrique Roberto plans to go ahead with Share Christmas.
“It is not the people’s fault,” he said.
“[it’s] the incompetency of our politicians to offer something that they cannot deliver. [It] was get rid of the gravy without cutting services, but now we’re cutting the services.”
Although the funding cuts only come into effect in 2012, Christmas this year won’t be quite the same. Roberto said almost 100 families will be cut off the Share Christmas list.
Part of the reason for the shortened list is that the centre will start doing its own screening this year. Usually, the Christmas Bureau takes in applications from all its partners and sifts through them to make sure each applicant only gets help from one institution. The BBNC plans on fine-tuning its interview process this year in preparation.
“This year we will have room to wiggle,” Roberto said. “But next year it’s going to be brutal.
“At what moment do you say to [a] child, ‘You yes, and you, no?’ ” Roberto added.
“Who [am I] or the steering committee … to say to a child, you cannot receive the support … you were hoping to receive this year?”
Curley is already holding volunteer sign-up sessions for the Share Christmas program, which will be up and running after Thanksgiving weekend.
Each family member helped by the Share Christmas program receives, at minimum, socks, underwear, pajamas, a book and a box of non-perishable food. Last year, the program helped almost 400 families, including 1,052 children.