Every child shall receive a toy at Christmas
That's the commitment the CJWW Secret Santa Foundation has promised to satisfy each holiday season since becoming a federally registered charitable foundation in 2000.
The initiative has been carried on after the pioneer, Denny Carr, began the annual drive all the way back in 1983, with a dream to ensure each needy child in Saskatoon would receive at least one new toy at Christmas. Before Carr passed in 1999, he was recognized with the Order of Canada award, the highest honour in Canada after a lifetime of philanthropy work to improve the lives people in Saskatoon.
His legacy lives on in the fabric of holiday season in Saskatoon.
Carr's lifelong commitment to improve his community aligns seamlessly with the values Huskie Athletics was founded on over 105 years ago. Human dignity, fairness, equality, diversity and a never-ending commitment to the community makes the partnership a perfect match.
"Huskie Athletics is so proud to partner with the Secret Santa program which was founded by Denny Carr – a true inspiration in the Saskatoon community," said Chief Athletics Officer Shawn Burt. "Giving back to our community – being where we are expected and needed – and carrying on Denny's legacy is a key pillar in terms of what it means to be a Huskie; this longstanding and important program is a perfect way for us to show our support."
Nicole Semko, Executive Director of the campaign, can appreciate the importance of the Huskies involvement for the second straight year.
"Students are going to be professionals one day, and they aren't far off right now; maybe five years. To me and our organization, it's important to get students aware about philanthropy and helping others. Being compassionate about what's going on around them and in their own community. We need to stay relevant with that generation, that's why getting involved with the University and the Huskies; we couldn't be happier about that." says Semko.
This holiday season, members of the extended Huskie Athletics community are encouraged to do what they can to support the campaign. Donation boxes are located in each of Saskatoon Co-Op locations starting November 14th. Donations can be made at the PAC November 29, December 1 and 2. Money donations can be made on their website, saskatoonsecretsanta.ca. All monetary donations are tax-refundable.
Semko kicks the campaign off at City Hall on November 14th. From there on, it only gets busier for her loyal core of volunteers.
Eight volunteers help out Semko on a day-to-day basis, and for their hamper assembling day they are grateful for the support from the community.
"On the first Tuesday of December, we build our hampers. We get an overwhelming response of support from people, sometimes we even have to turn a few people away to ensure there's room to breathe inside the warehouse. It all gets done assembly-line style with about 100 volunteers." notes Semko.
Hampers are filled with not only your typical non-perishables but fresh produce, bread, eggs, milk, ham and other grocery necessities. On top of that, each family gets a well thought-out custom toy bag. One main large gift, as well as 2-3 smaller gifts, carefully picked with family dynamics in mind. Members of the Saskatoon Fire Department then stack up the jam-packed hampers ready for pick up come distribution day on December 20th each year.
The campaign makes a stop at the University of Saskatchewan on November 29th. The Saskatoon Media Group radio stations – CJWW, 98Cool and The Bull - will broadcast live from the PAC for the Huskie Blitz day. On that day and extending to the weekend of basketball and men's hockey on December 1st-2nd, fans, supporters and the UofS community are encouraged to drop off toys in the donation box or make a cash donation.
"I have learned very quickly that the people of Saskatoon are incredibly generous and community minded. Huskie Athletics encourages all of our fans, student-athletes and the entire University of Saskatchewan community to support our partnership with Secret Santa," said Burt. "I know our donation bins will be overflowing and the impact on the lives of children in our community will be enhanced through this amazing initiative."
What can the community do?
Semko points to the creativity of the Agros student society in the College of Agriculture & Bioresources. Last year, they challenged students to fill a cattle trailer full of toys, which they did unsurprisingly.
"Have some fun with it." says Semko, "I know students don't have money but every little bit counts. $10 for us is worth way more because of our buying power. So sometimes I think that while we accept toy donations, you don't have to try to buy a fancy toy that dents your wallet to feel like you made a difference. The same with food. Our partnership with title sponsor the Saskatoon Co-Op allows us to stretch $20 at the grocery store a lot further than it would for the individual consumer."
The impact is beyond measurable for the families in need of help.
"A couple years, near the end of the campaign, I was short toys on a certain age group. I usually purchase a good discount with toy reps in August, but this time I had to pay retail to satisfy the shortage. As I brought dozens of toys, the cashier noticed the multiples of 3-4 toys each and asked if I was a teacher or something. I said no, it's for a children's charity; Secret Santa. She looked at me, smiled and said 'I think my mom used to do that for us. Growing up we didn't have anything, but I remember at Christmas we always had food in the fridge and we had toys, miraculously. I never knew how she did it.'" Semko recalls.
"I thanked her for sharing the story – it's not something people are proud of – but I thanked her because it sort of validated what I was doing. Shopping late in the season, during late-night in Wal-Mart paying retail prices, dog-tired and spending a lot of time away from my kids. It was like; that obviously meant something to her and it made me realize why I do this." says Semko.