Neatly organized in Linda Pearce’s basement in Washago, Ont., are more than 300 plastic totes filled with toys, gifts and supplies, and cabinets stuffed with chocolate and candy. Weeks before special occasions such as Valentine’s Day, Easter and Christmas, she “shops” in her basement for goodies and creates gift baskets, stockings or gift bags for children in need, often customizing them based on age.

“Linda’s Gifting Project” was born out of a desire to help women and children living in shelters or transitional housing, and has since expanded to any children in need.

“Children are often left out in society, and are innocent victims of poverty and abuse,” says Linda. “I wanted to do something to brighten and cheer these children up.”

Small Gifts, Big Joy

Years ago, she noticed how people were putting large Christmas gifts and boxed items in donation bins. “I have a lot of grandchildren, and big presents are great, but the little things are what they will play with over and over again,” says Linda, a mother of four and grandmother of 12. “Kids like to get little things in stockings—it makes them happy.”

Last Easter, she gave 233 gift baskets filled with toys and treats to the Salvation Army church in Orillia, Ont., and 250 to a local food bank. Each basket took her about an hour to assemble.

“This past year, especially with COVID-19, many clients were excited and appreciative to give a surprise to their kids,” says Marilyn vanDeursen, the church’s family services worker. “There were several who said that money was tight right now, and they weren’t sure they could give anything for Easter this year.”

“I firmly believe we should all be doing something to help our communities.” LINDA PEARCE

While dropping off the items at the church, Linda bumped into a woman who was leaving with several bags of bread. After talking with her briefly, Linda found out she had eight children.

 “I asked if her kids would like Easter baskets and she freaked right out,” she laughs. “It really warmed my heart.”

A Rock of Support

Linda was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome in 1983, a chronic autoimmune disease that has left her unable to carry out physical work without experiencing fatigue or pain. She finds purpose and joy in caring for other people through gifts, and is amply supported by her husband of 46 years, Rick.

“He’s my rock,” she says.

Not only does Rick help Linda seek out and purchase gift items but he also constructed the shelves in the basement and helps with physical tasks. The project is 90-percent funded by their savings and pension income.

Prior to COVID-19, Linda was packaging and delivering more than 1,000 gift baskets or bags each year to people in need. That number has been reduced since the pandemic has resulted in restrictions on what organizations can safely accept.

“I firmly believe we should all be doing something to help our communities,” says Linda. “I could never stand and ring the bells for The Salvation Army because it’d be too physically difficult, but there are so many needs.

“If you give something of yourself, it brings so many blessings. I have tremendous faith in God, and I believe He’s guiding and helping me. He supplies what I need.”

Melissa Yue Wallace is a journalism graduate and freelance writer who is passionate about helping people in need and encouraging the organizations that work tirelessly to care for them. Melissa lives in Richmond Hill, Ont., with her husband and twin children.

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