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’

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MARK MCNEIL

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

GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Jay Perry in his photo stu­dio stor­age room. Perry has had phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess with a lo­cal char­ity called Friends with Hearts.

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