Photo courtesy of YONGE STREET MISSION
By BEATRICE S.PAEZ
The Christmas season always arrives early at Yonge Street Mission (YSM) – carols play on a loop; shiny gold, silver and red balls dangle from the ceiling; and the gift-giving begins Dec. 13 and ends on Dec. 23.
This year, an estimated 6,000 people – mostly struggling adults, families with children, homeless youth, and low-income seniors – will benefit from YSM’s Annual Toy and Food Market.
YSM staff and volunteers have been working round-the-clock to ensure that every child in need will wake up to find a box with his or her name under the Christmas tree.
A not-for-profit Christian community, YSM has been carrying out its mission of bringing cheer and hope to families and individuals living in poverty since 1896.
Many of its clients year-round are recent immigrants, homeless youth, isolated seniors and adults that come from the city’s low-income neighbourhoods of St. James Town, Moss Park and Regent Park. Throughout the year, YSM offers free meals, health care, clothing, job training, and counselling to individuals and families in need.
At the Toy Market, mothers and fathers can carefully comb through an impressive stock of dolls, toy cars, games and books to find the right gift for their children. Churches, offices, schools and other organizations pitch in by holding their own toy drive to maintain a steady supply of goods.
“We do have a good reputation with our program, because we treat our clients with quite a bit of dignity,” said Luke LaRocque, the Toy Market Logistics Planner. “The way we operate demonstrates that [parents] are also involved in the selection process. It’s not just, ‘Here’s a toy and have a great day.’ They’re here to select for their children and their needs.”
So far, YSM has collected enough gifts for over 2,000 children at its toy market and more than 2,000 people at the accompanying food market, to help families and seniors supplement their nutritional needs.
Families that qualify based on income and family size registered in October to secure a spot on the list.
An average family with three kids will leave with about 20-25 gifts, which include a box of cookies, knitwear, a cozy blanket, stocking stuffers, books and some toys or a gift card.
The priority list also includes homeless youth, who are in need of TTC tokens, toiletries, backpacks and warm clothing.
Teenagers, whose interests and tastes are more difficult to gauge, are often overlooked during the season, said Sharon Howell, senior manager of donor relations. Usually on top of their wish list are gift cards from HMV, Indigo or clothing stores for young adults.
“They’re at that age when they’re pickier,” said Howell. “We always want to make sure [they] have enough to choose from.”
Kalanity, a mother of two, knows how hard it is to shop for kids these days when what they want most are usually electronics. Grateful for the generosity she’s been shown over the years at YSM, she said she’s keeping an eye out for that Lego box that will hopefully light up her son’s face.
For more information on how to donate or volunteer, click online at www.ysm.ca