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Dec9FriThrough the Toy Mountain campaign, The Salvation Army and CTV give children a reason to smile at Christmas December 9, 2011 by Julia Hosking
Last year, Tracey Gordon saw her two girls' faces light up on Christmas Day. Gordon smiled as she watched them excitedly unwrap dolls, games and stocking stuffers she had received from The Salvation Army's Toy Mountain. The unemployed, single mom, who is a client and volunteer at Toronto's Cederbrae Community Church, was grateful for that moment.
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“If it wasn't for The Salvation Army and Toy Mountain, I wouldn't have been able to give my girls a nice Christmas,” she shares.
A Million Smiles
With Christmas approaching, many Torontonians are tuning in to CTV's nightly news, where weather anchor Tom Brown champions the CTV and Salvation Army Toy Mountain campaign now in its 16th year. Together, the two organizations work in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to collect toys for children whose parents can't afford to buy them.
“As soon as we get into November, I know Toy Mountain is around the corner,” says Brown, beaming. “I'm pumped, I'm excited—it's the highlight of my Christmas season.”
Thanks to the promotion on CTV and support of many businesses and individuals, goals are regularly exceeded. In 2010, Toy Mountain collected over 143,000 toys, surpassing its goal of 120,000. This meant 65,000 children received several toys on Christmas Day.
Brown recalls his “magical” Christmases as a child—running down the stairs and seeing brightly-wrapped presents under a sparkling tree—and that is what he wants to provide to others through Toy Mountain. “Let's give every child that magical moment every year; let's put a smile on their face and let them know they're loved,” he says.
A Valuable Partnership
Major John Murray, divisional secretary for public relations and development, Ontario Central-East Division, believes the campaign has a wonderful spin-off effect.
“Toy Mountain is also about highlighting the Army's presence in the community—bringing hope to people, engaging volunteers and developing corporate partnerships,” he says.
During the Christmas period, in the GTA alone, there are 400 Christmas kettle sites and 2,000 volunteers, making it the most visible time of year for the Army.
“We're on the news a lot talking about poverty, the marginalized and the working poor,” continues Major Murray. “We strategically turn the message of Christmas into an opportunity to bring dignity to people. Toy Mountain and CTV help us with that task.”
In addition to the public's generous support of the campaign, major corporations, such as Toronto Ford Dealers and McDonald's Ontario, are an integral part of Toy Mountain's success.
McDonald's Ontario has been a proud supporter of the campaign for several years. In 2011, their GTA restaurants will once again have toy collection boxes available for public donations.
“A program like this fits perfectly within the culture of McDonald's, which is giving back to people in need and helping to support our local communities,” says Sharon Ramalho, vice-president, McDonald's Ontario.
The Toronto Ford Dealers Association joined the Toy Mountain team in 2010, donating more than $100,000 worth of toys and money and giving away a 2011 Ford Fiesta in a draw as a reward to Toy Mountain donors.
“Being part of Toy Mountain brings a smile to our faces,” says David Nourse, vice-president, Toronto Ford Dealers Association.
Shopping malls and small businesses also play a significant role in Toy Mountain by hosting toy drives and collection boxes. The Railside Food and Toy Distribution Centre located in Toronto, which collects, collates and distributes the toys, offers businesses an electronic toy drive via their new website (salvationarmyfoodandtoy.org) as part of Give Joy, an arm of Toy Mountain.
From the Store to the Corps
Throughout the Toy Mountain campaign, the Railside Food and Toy Distribution Centre is hard at work to prepare those toys already collected.
They pick up donations from more than 300 locations—including shopping malls and businesses—and sort them by age and gender. This process, which commences in mid-November, relies heavily on corporate volunteers such as IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Bank of Montreal and Allans Candy.
“If it wasn't for our volunteers, we couldn't do Christmas,” says David Rennie, executive director, Railside Food and Toy Distribution Centre. “We have 150 corporations support us each year. Many continue to return as they are so thankful for the opportunity to help others.”
“Not many people feel as good as we do at Christmas,” reflects Don Butt, director, Railside Food and Toy Distribution Centre. “One Christmas Eve, as I was heading home, I realized that 65,000 kids would have toys under their trees in the morning because of our work.”
Once sorted, toys are delivered to Salvation Army ministry units for distribution, many of which have adopted a process whereby parents “go shopping” for their children.
“Providing parents with a selection gives them more dignity,” says Rennie. “They know what their kids like. For example, some five-year-olds have an eight-year-olds' reading level and there are girls who prefer trucks over dolls.”
Major Sandra Ryan, corps officer at Corps 614 in Toronto's Regent Park, discovered this process can be as meaningful in parents' lives as in the children's.
“One mother came to select gifts for her kids who were in foster care at the time,” recalls Major Ryan. “Being able to choose was significant because so many other choices had been taken from her. The following year, she came to us again, this time with her children. She said that because we treated her with respect, she had resolved to change her life and worked to get her kids back.”
To ensure that children will receive a toy on Christmas Day, the distribution to parents and caregivers commences in early December for most corps.
“We don't normally start getting the onslaught of toys through Toy Mountain until mid-December, and so each year we need an opening inventory for ministry units to start distributing,” says Butt. “The toys we get up to the end of December and even at the beginning of January go into the system for early distribution next year.”
Toys Open Doors
As the Toy Mountain campaign gains momentum this December, there is once again a need for toys. With families still recovering from the global financial crisis, and one in 11 Canadians living in poverty, last year's goal has been increased to 150,000 to deal with this heightened demand.
“Christmas is a time for giving and because I cannot give to Toy Mountain, I give my time to The Salvation Army,” says Gordon. “Through that, I've seen parents who, like me, can't afford the toys they're receiving. It's amazing to see the joy those parents have when they pick out the gifts for their kids.”
Whether donating to Toy Mountain or the Salvation Army toy drive in your local community, Major Murray offers a reminder that the Christmas campaign is about more than toys.
“When Army officers, staff and volunteers distribute Christmas gifts to clients, it opens the door for broader conversations about what is going on in their world and how they live,” he says. “We can then connect the kids with our summer camps and other programs where we can plant seeds of hope, joy and Christ in their lives. And all that starts because someone donates a toy to us at Christmas.”