The holiday season has arrived quickly yet again this year – so much to do, so little time. But in the hustle and bustle of these crazy days, it’s also time to give thanks and give back. Elfster is proud to help bring together a generous grassroots group that is using social media to mobilize a community making a difference for children in need.
Secret Santa Guelph (#secretsantaguelph) is a fundraising gift exchange started four years ago by Elfster user Bang Ly (#superbang) based in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. The group he started with just 30 participants has grown to 160 and is helping to fight food insecurity by raising funds to support The Children’s Foundation’s Food and Friends Program implemented at Brant Avenue Public School in Guelph, the same elementary school Bang attended when he was a kid.
This underprivileged neighborhood in Bang’s community has the highest density of low income, single-parent households (the vast majority are led by females) in the greater Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Ontario area, and many adults have not completed high school, nor do they speak English as a first language.
“The elementary school in the neighbourhood has 180 or so kids this year,” Bang explains. “About 150 of them need to access the breakfast program at this school, as they are often sent to school having not eaten breakfast or dinner the night before and are without a lunch.”
The Food and Friends Program is funded by three different organizations,” he continues. “These three organizations are stretched so thin they can only provide food for the program for 3 days a week and they run out of funding by March, leaving 88 or so teaching days with zero food. I won’t even get into the type of food they provide based on the funding they get. It’s just all sugar and carbs.”
In its inaugural year in 2011, Secret Santa Guelph raised $850 to support the Food and Friends program, which provides healthy food the children can access at any time. With gift cards in hand, Bang took a trip to the school to deliver this much-needed donation, and he realized just how dire the situation is for these children. And he realized he had the power of social media right at his fingertips.
“In the first year, we were able to donate enough funding to support a few extra weeks. The second year, we doubled that. The third year, we raised enough money to provide four days of food a week and also filled the gap from end of March to the end of June,” Bang explains. This year, Secret Santa Guelph has raised an amazing $11,596.00… so far!
“I didn’t think we’d even hit $5,000 this year,” he adds. “We’re almost at the point of quadrupling last year’s donation. I’m getting the Neighbourhood Group’s budget soon, so I’ll know if we have any surplus left over for the Waverley Drive Public School Food Program. WDPS is the next school the kids from Brant go to for Grades 7-8. The kids grow up, but their food insecurity problems follow them. The High School they go to next, John F. Ross CVI, also has a food program as that’s the next destination for some of those kids.”
“This year, we have 16 more days to garner sponsorship dollars, and we have signed on 157 people to participate in the gift exchange. We have 16 corporate sponsors this year as well,” Bang explains. “We are even donating our surplus funds to the neighbourhood group’s lunch program, where parents can come to the facility, make a lunch for their kids with the facility’s food and bring their kids a lunch at lunchtime and save a little dignity for themselves. It’s such an important program.”
“Elfster is sort of a lynchpin in all of this,” he says. “I need you to match everyone.” And we’re happy to lend a helping hand.
Bang explains how the Secret Santa Guelph exchange works:
- we set up a twitter gift exchange using Elfster as our tool to match everyone;
- we tweet about what we want to get as a gift with the hash #secretsantaguelph;
- then we support local businesses by buying a $15 gift for the person we’re matched with;
- then we go party at a local downtown establishment and bring them business on a slow night;
- all the participants pledge to donate $25 or more to the Brant Ave Public School’s breakfast program;
- we also solicit corporate sponsorship and run advertising for them with our hashtag and on our blog;
- our goal is to provide five days of food/week and bridge the gap from March to the end of June for all five days as well.
And Bang hopes to continue to give back to his community. “The next stage in Secret Santa Guelph is to go into corporations and offer to run their gift exchange for them and have the corporation donate $x per head and have the donations go to a neighbourhood charity that corporation was assigned/adopted.”
“That’s what we’re doing with your tool,” he says. “We’re using your service to help us fight food insecurity for 895 families. Feel free to scream from the mountain top about our little charity event. We could always use more sponsors.”
Want to help make a difference? You can make a donation here. Please note #secretsantaguelph in your first or last name, and select that the gift should go where it is needed most to have the money go directly to Bang’s group.
Are you part of a group giving back to your community this holiday season? We’d love to hear from you @elfster.
And as you go about your busy days this holiday season, don’t forget to give back.