Creating a sense of community and helping others has been the driving force behind a long-standing event at one Barrie elementary school.
Students at Portage View Public School in the city’s Letitia Heights neighbourhood have been participating in an annual Gift Gala for the past decade, an event that this year raised more than $1,000 in support of Youth Haven.
Sandy Barker, who has worked in the office at the school for 14 years, said the fundraiser started approximately 10 years ago, adding the local charitable organization was chosen due to a personal connection of one of the school’s teachers at the time.
“We’ve always supported Youth Haven because of her son," she said. "Not only was he affiliated with them, (but) he had used some of those services. If it’s a food drive or (the) Gift Gala that we are collecting for, we always donate to Youth Haven.”
Barker noted the school typically sends information out about the event in November, asking families to donate new or gently used items to be donated to the Gift Gala, as well as gift bags, scotch tape and wrapping paper.
“The amount of donations we get is actually overwhelming. Not only do we get gently used items, a lot of times we actually get brand new items," she said. "Every item is sold for 25 cents to the children … (and) even if children come with no money they are still able to shop. They’re always excited, especially the younger students, that they get to go home with Christmas presents for their moms and dads or brothers and sisters.”
Last year, the event saw the donation of a new bathrobe worth $75, Barker added.
“Things like that we set aside and we actually do a staff silent auction, because we can generate more money that way than selling it for 25 cents," she said.
The fundraiser has always been a popular one for students of all ages, added Grade 8 student Sophie, who, along with her classmates, helped organize and run this year’s event.
“It’s really important because a lot of students don’t get the chance to go out shopping for families, and because all of the gifts are only 25 cents it’s a really good chance to get small presents for close family," she said. "It’s always really nice to see when a student finds something they think their parents or guardian or sibling would really like … and be excited to bring it home."
When students presented Youth Haven with the cheque, it also provided a great opportunity to not only celebrate their achievement, but to also have an important conversation with students about what the organization does, said Portage View principal Kevin Stapleton.
“It’s twofold: Number one is they have a chance to be leaders and it really builds community within the school (by) having parents donate and then having student leaders organize and then assist the younger students in making a purchase. It’s cross-age team-building," he said.
The second reason, Stapleton added, is it helps to create empathy for those people less fortunate in othe community.
“It’s very impactful to the school community as a whole, and it contributes to something locally that’s very worthwhile," he said.
Youth Haven, which currently serves 26 youth between the ages of 16 and 24 and provides outreach programs to an additional 400 youth, says it's grateful for the efforts of the staff and students at Portage View.
“Their efforts raised $1,005," said staff member Jennifer Kaplinski. "These funds will go directly to caring for our youth who are experiencing homelessness. Third-party fundraisers such as this are a huge part of us being able to keep our doors open and continue the work we do.”