These elves know city’s poor youth
Santa Claus Fund workers are on front lines of Toronto’s child poverty problem
On one late October shift, there is a striking similarity between the volunteers who are packing children’s hampers for the Santa Claus Fund: they are all teachers or health care workers, and they have all been on the front lines to witness Toronto’s child poverty problem.
“Many people don’t realize that in the city, we’ve got kids who don’t even have a lunch,” says Kathie Keating, 60.
“I know those stories. I’ve seen those stories. I see those kids who come in with a slice of bread in the bottom of their knapsack. Kids that say, ‘Oh, Christmas was just another day. My mom was at work.’ ”
The teachers are elbow-to-elbow today, sorting, packing and piling 45,000 boxes for the kids who really need them.
The children come from families who are on social assistance or disability support; families you might consider as the working poor. They are screened through one of our 133 community service agencies registered with the charity.
Barbara Switzer spent 38 years as a public health nurse for the city, serving in both homes and shelters. “I’ve seen the types of need that are in Toronto,” she says. “I was in the downtown core.”
Things might look OK from the outside, but people are really struggling, Switzer says. “After they pay rent, they have very little left. They’re working maybe two or three jobs, you know? The taxi driver, the person in your local grocery store, whoever: Many people can’t make ends meet and I don’t think that people realize that.”
Retired for four years now, Switzer says she still remembers all those families. “They were wonderful.”
She also remembers homes with no furniture, with cockroaches and bedbugs. “It’s hard to believe here in Toronto we have children living in such conditions,” she said, shaking her head. “It’s important we remember the struggle they live through.”
Toronto remains the child poverty capital of Canada.
A2015 report found 28.6 per cent of our children are living in low-income households.
In 2011, the low-income measure for a single person in Toronto was $16,456 and $39,912 for a two-parent family with two children under the age of 16.
Poverty rates among Toronto children also outpace other age groups, last year’s report found.
Switzer has been with the Santa Claus Fund for a few years now. She and her husband also do deliveries, so she can recount stories of parents with tears in their eyes after gifting the boxes to their children. “They don’t want to admit they couldn’t do things, you know? But everyone needs a helping hand sometimes . . . Any of us could be there at any time.”
Cathy Glass is also among the “flock of teachers elf-ing the warehouse.” Glass, from Brampton, is retired and has volunteered with both the packing and delivery of gift boxes for Toronto’s needy children. Last year, her husband wore a Santa hat while she donned reindeer horns.
Glass remembers one boy in particular, who was “all smiles” when she gave him his gift box. As they were leaving, however, he came back out of his house. The couple looked at each other. “Oh no,” they thought.
But the boy’s father came up behind him: “He just wants to take a picture with Santa and his reindeer.”
Volunteer Kathie Keating sorts gifts that will be packed inside Santa Claus Fund boxes, which will be delivered to kids who really need them.