TORONTO, Ont. -- Christmas charity Holiday Helpers is getting another helping hand this year, in the form of services donated by volunteers in the logistics community.
Thanks to John Chipperfield, a retired logistics professional, the Toronto branch of the CITT, and a host of warehousing, transportation, and technology providers, the charity will receive help with storage and deliveries this Christmas, and with logistics planning in the New Year.
Holiday Helpers began 15 years ago, when two sisters, Sarah and April Rutka, read a news article about a local family whose house had burnt down.
“It was just a few days before Christmas. We wanted to help them out and we felt compelled to give them a Christmas tree. We also collected some money from family and friends for decorations,” Sarah Rutka told Transportation Media.
“It honestly grew from there. The next year we went back to the Salvation Army, the organization that was helping them, and asked how we could help. We started to brainstorm other ways we could help, and to expand what we were providing, and it grew from year to year,” said Rutka, who is also an entrepreneur and mom.
While Holiday Helpers initially had no intention of becoming a registered charity, a couple of years ago they did register so that they could write their own tax receipts.
In 2010, the charity donated Christmas packages to 154 families and 364 children throughout the greater Toronto area.
This year, Holiday Helpers will help 250 families. Next year they anticipate raising that number to 300.
“We do want to help more and more families every year. We have talked about maybe expanding into some other communities. We’re not there yet but we may consider this, or work with other people who can help expand it. As we grow we’ll have to look at hiring a full-time staff member,” said Rutka.
“What we’re finding resonates with people is the fact that we’re still grassroots, we’re still small, and we’ve humbly grown our charity,” she said.
Holiday Helpers targets families who are ‘trying to lift themselves up.’
Their mission is to provide low-income families with a customized package for the holidays. The package includes a fully decorated artificial Christmas tree, a gift card to a local grocery store for a Christmas dinner and personalized gifts for each family member from their wish lists, including winter jackets, warm clothes, toys and necessities for the home.
Holiday Helpers has an almost entirely volunteer committee, with most volunteers also holding full time jobs, many of them in marketing and sales.
What was missing was coordinating the complex logistics around the deliveries as they increased. That’s where John Chipperfield came in.
A founding partner with freight forwarder Bellville Rodair International, and boasting 38 years of transportation and logistics experience, Chipperfield has no shortage of know-how in organizing deliveries like the ones Holiday Helpers makes.
“We have an advisory board, a brain trust of sorts, and John was the uncle of one of our members. When John’s name came forward we jumped at the opportunity to work with him. Logistics is a huge piece of the charity. To have his expertise has been incredible.
We foresee that wrapping and delivering day going smoothly,” said Rutka.
Chipperfield has also been a member of CITT for 17 years and helped organize the founding of the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council.
“Because of my strong association with CITT, I thought it would be a wonderful project for the CITT Toronto area council to take on as an annual event. I put a small committee together of members of the Toronto area council. We’ve been able to get volunteers within the organization to donate space for wrapping gifts, warehousing space, and transportation services. I was targeting whoever was kind enough to say yes you can talk to me. One of my greatest satisfactions is that I don’t think there is a person I’ve talked to that has said no,” added Chipperfield.
He has also found a company that will provide kitting services, to box the Christmas decoration package that is donated to the families, and which includes a tree, garland, decorations, and an extension cord.
The gift wrapping will take place from the13th to the 16th of December.
Then approximately 150 delivery volunteers will deliver the goods on the afternoon of December 16th and 17th.
“Although it’s not a big charity we’re going to donate to 650 kids, and 250 families,” said Chipperfield.
In previous years, Holiday Helpers volunteers wrapped from their homes, or from donated spaces, like churches, and they would do drop-offs in volunteers’ homes, then run up to the wrapping centre, making two or three trips, noted Chipperfield.
“Now, we’re able to have some of our members provide warehousing space and do single deliveries, cutting down on workload and aggravation. When we were looking for space we needed about 10,000 square feet for about 14 days to do the wrapping. There was a security issue around bringing a number of volunteers in over the course of a couple weeks, so I went to landlords and talked to a number of them. I asked for any empty space that was not being rented out at that time. Everything has been donated, and what has not been has been given with very generous pricing,” he said.
Toy companies have invited Holiday Helpers in to employee sales-to buy at different price points and without the commotion.
“One of the other things we’ve been able to bring to the table is routing and mapping-one company volunteer has allowed us to use their routing software-we’re able to bring the routing information to them and reduce the delivery times,” he said.
Going forward in the New Year, Chipperfield will sit in on several board meetings to discuss the pluses and minuses of the delivery events, and also purchasing plans for the year.
Items that need to be purchased tend to be made at “high season”, for example Christmas trees in November, winter clothes, and decorations. Chipperfield said that the committee will discuss purchasing items at low season and warehousing them.
“Through CITT we’ve been able to get long-term warehouse space, to look at buying next year’s trees in January. I’m thinking this year we should be able to look for children’s snowsuits, coats and hats off-season. I expect one of the things we’ll be able to do is stretch their dollars. Here’s a rough and tumble industry, trucking and warehousing, and the CITT has just come through and everybody has just been remarkably generous,” said Chipperfield.
“The other thing that I really like about the charity is that while many are ‘administratively heavy’ less than 1 % of the total cost of Holiday Helpers is going to administrative costs,” he added.
“We’re still in personal contact with our donors. We give them the wishlist, ages, and genders of the families. They feel a personal connection. People are a little bit tired of just handing money over or dropping a toy in a box-if we can provide information and give the donor the names, that seems to resonate. We don’t find any donor fatigue-they just want to make that connection,” said Rutka.
Many families who receive the donations are single-parent households, some are new to Canada and all are involved with subsidized agencies for daycare or other family aid, said the charity.
Each family must also meet the following criteria: at least one child under the age of 14 years, annual household income less than $25,000, a permanent address, and has NOT been sponsored by Holiday Helpers in years past.
Families also must be referred to the organization from one of its partner organizations.