Friends with Hearts expands to six cities
Hamilton man sees network grow as he aims to ‘restore the magic of Christmas for families in need’
JAY PERRY DOESN’T LOOK LIKE SANTA CLAUS but he sure acts like him.
The 34-year-old keeps his body slim, his brown whiskers short, and the trail of interwoven tattoos on his arm might spook a reindeer.
But for the past five years, the former rock guitarist cum commercial photographer has been making a big difference underneath Christmas trees, near and far, with his charitable group Friends with Hearts.
It’s gone from humble beginnings helping one family five years ago to raising more than $65,000, assisting nearly 800 families in six communities on both sides of the border.
He calls it a “community of friends working together to restore the magic of Christmas for families in need.”
It all started in 2011 after getting back from doing missionary work in Haiti. Someone said, “It’s great what you have been doing there but what are you doing for your hometown?”
He didn’t know what to say to that. But shortly after, he stumbled upon a photo of himself when he was four, unwrapping a present that had a Ghostbusters car in it.
“I could remember that day and all the joy I felt for the fond memory that my parents gave me,” he said.
‘I didn’t come from a rich family but we never suffered. And I just realized a lot of other kids didn’t have that experience.”
So he asked friends to toss in $25 hoping to raise $250 to help out one family they connected with through the Good Shepherd Centre. They ended up with two families after raising $1,400.
Over the years that followed, word spread about Friends with Hearts over social media and chapters have opened in Vancouver, Cornwall, Niagara region, Toronto and most recently in New York City.
“Every cent that comes in goes directly to the families,” said Perry, adding that all of the chapters were started by people he knows.
Sometimes, he said, money goes toward food or winter coats and boots.
“Those are the hardest ones, you look at these young kids who want winter boots and you think they would go without if we didn’t help them.”
The effort begs the question: Was Perry inspired by the late Jimmy Lomax who for decades gathered presents for underprivileged kids with his Operation Santa Claus, a charitable gift drive he ran with his wife Susan?
Perry says he had never heard of Lomax until a year ago when Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger compared Friends with Hearts to Operation Santa Claus in a conversation.
“I didn’t realize who Jimmy Lomax was but after I did some research I realized it was a big compliment.”
Another fan of Perry’s work is Alan Whittle, Director of Planning and Community Relations with the Good Shepherd.
He said “Jay works tirelessly leading up to Christmas in order to provide those we serve gifts that they would otherwise go without. The group that he has led has raised tens of thousands of dollars over several years to meet these needs ... Friends with Hearts plays a crucial role in assisting Good Shepherd in meeting the needs of those we serve.”
And he’s already thinking about Christmas 2017. Friends with Hearts had a fundraising event last month that raised more than $4,000.
For information about Friends with Hearts, go to www.friendswithhearts.com
Every cent that comes in goes directly to the families. JAY PERRY
Jay Perry in his photo studio storage room. Perry has had phenomenal success with a local charity called Friends with Hearts.