With the holiday season shortly upon us, you may be considering ways of giving back, perhaps making donations or giving time to a cause you believe in. Holiday Helpers (HH) is a volunteer run charity dedicated to giving a Christmas to underprivileged families in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). I spoke with co-founder Sarah Rutka about her vision for the organization and what she thinks about mindful living.
What motivated you to found Holiday Helpers?
When my sister and I started Holiday Helpers we never imagined that it would grow into a registered charity. April had read about a local family whose home burnt down in a fire days before Christmas and had lost everything. She felt compelled to help so we collected enough money to purchase a tree and gathered up used decorations from our family to donate to them.
The family was so thankful. We were overwhelmed with their gratitude that we committed to helping another family the following year. The feeling that we got in return for helping others almost become a selfish addiction in that each year we wanted to help more and more people. It wasn’t until the third year that we realized we had something special and we called ourselves Holiday Helpers.
What is your definition of living mindfully?
Living mindfully is about being grateful for what you have been given and where you are today. So many of us grow up in a world where we have family support, have opportunities to go to good schools, and have so many material things. Yet we complain about our homes not being big enough, or not taking a trip every year, or wanting a better wardrobe. We lose sight that there are people all around us that have to choose between buying groceries or paying rent, who shop at second-hand stores and who struggle to make sure their kids eat breakfast each morning.
Of what achievements are you most proud that HH has accomplished?
We were very proud the year we became an official registered charity. It was a long process but it legitimized what we were doing and allowed us to grow our marketing effort and donations so that we could help more people. This year our goal is to help 250 families in the GTA!
What do you see as the future of HH?
We’d like to continue to grow the number of families we help every year and soon achieve an annual goal of helping 500 families each Christmas. We also receive many requests from families outside the GTA, so eventually we’d like to expand our operations to other communities.
How do you hope to make a difference in this life?
We realize that giving a family a Christmas tree, decorations and a few gifts is not going to change their situation. But we do know that our donation brings families together. They experience a Christmas morning that they’ve only dreamed of and feel that someone cares about them. If all it does is bring one child the feeling that they are loved and part of a community, we believe that can spark greatness and a desire to be better and pay it forward.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to make a mark, but doesn't know how?
Helping someone doesn’t have to be a grandiose gesture. Find a cause that moves you and creates an emotion that you can’t ignore. There are so many charities and organizations helping all sorts of causes but need volunteers. Volunteering a few hours allows you to see how an organization runs and you’ll often get to meet some of the people the charity supports. This will motivate and inspire you to do more.
For more information about Holiday Helpers or to make a donation visit www.holidayhelpers.org.