By Takanori Kuge and Marion Yanase
Could I ask you some questions so our readers will know more about the Holiday Drive and all that is involved?
JSS’s Holiday Drive Program started 16 years ago with the aim to help our disadvantaged and isolated families and individuals in the community to welcome a brighter Christmas and New Year. By using the monetary donation together with the numerous contributions from our community, gifts are sorted and delivered to families and individuals. Each year, between the end of November and mid-December, several collection boxes are placed in strategic locations for community members to drop off contributions. The main items collected are non-perishable Japanese and/or Oriental foodstuff (dried food, canned goods, soy sauce, “Calrose” rice, etc.), unopened toys and games for children, and winter clothing (unused or almost new hats, scarves, gloves and stockings for both children and adults). Items are sorted according to the age of children (students) and distributed by JSS staff, board members and volunteers around the 20th of December.
Are there items that you do not or cannot accept?
We appreciate everything but we have to reject expired food or perishable items.
Someone who contributes regularly to the Holiday Drive mentioned that she wished she could provide a turkey for every family so they would be able to participate in a tradition that is very Canadian.
That would be great but we don’t have space to keep frozen turkeys and some families do not have an oven to roast one. Also, there are people who do not like the smell of turkey. As the lady mentioned, there are inexpensive roasted chickens but again, it is considered a perishable item.
Are there non-food items that are difficult to accept?
Yes, because of size, it becomes very difficult to distribute adult clothing and sometimes style is a concern.
There have been comments made on media where a few people said that those who are receiving gifts through charity drives should not be fussy about what they receive because it’s all free. How would you respond to this?
I personally think that is a very arrogant attitude. People already feel bad if they have to accept charity even though they appreciate it. Children are different. They wear what their parents have in the closet and they can only wear items for one season as they are too small next year. Children’s clothing seems to turn over quickly so they are still fashionable. We always have requests for children’s winter jackets, gloves, boots and other winter gear. We try to meet requests of recipients because I speak to each family or individual to find out what they really need.
Christmas is a great time because people tend to be more generous during this gift-giving season. Wouldn’t it be nice if gifts could be given at another time of year as well?
Yes, but I definitely wouldn’t be able to handle it with my workload. It is a very time-consuming task. Because we protect the confidentiality of all recipients, there are some things I cannot leave for the limited volunteers. They are already so busy to arrange requests, decorate and deliver donation boxes, shop, pick up donation boxes at the last minute, sort, pack, gift-wrap, arrange delivery times with drivers and recipients, and close the campaign.
Are there any procedures to become a recipient of Holiday Drive gifts?
Most recipients have been clients and/or former clients of JSS, but we have recipients who are not. There are recipients who have been referred to this program from organizations and individual members of the Japanese community. Once clients are referred to the program, I call them and do a ‘needs’ assessment. Once qualified, the person is put on the recipient list of the program. Every year a couple of recipients graduate from the program since their situation improves, and a couple of new recipients are put on the list, so the number has been about the same in the last several years.
How do you advertise this program?
General information of the program is disseminated via JSS’s website, Japanese town magazines distributed in the GTA and other organizations and businesses in the Japanese community. We ask Family Talks Forum (FTF) that is a mailing list among Japanese-speaking mothers in GTA to spread information regarding the specific items requested by recipients.
Is the advertisement of the program only available in Japanese?
The general information of the program is disseminated to the community in both Japanese and English. But the information regarding specific requested items is spread only in Japanese since the members of FTF are Japanese speaking. But I will look for a source to spread it in English, so that we have more chances to collect the requested items.
Are all the recipients Japanese speaking?
No, they aren’t. There are recipients who are 2nd, 3rd generation Japanese Canadians and who only speak English, although the majority of the recipients are Japanese speaking. As I mentioned, recipients of this program do not have to be clients or members of JSS. We try to help everyone in the community who requests help when facing difficult financial times, unbearable challenges, or isolation. Sometimes, people are referred to us but the recipient must give permission to apply. There have been some potential recipients who were referred but rejected the offer finding it offensive when I called them to do the needs assessment. If anyone knows of people who might need a gift box, please ask the potential recipients to contact the Holiday Drive Coordinator directly, or at least ask if they are interested in the program. All requests are confidential. We also appreciate contributions and monetary donors who may specify if they want to give to only the Holiday Drive or all JSS services and programs. People can call me in English or Japanese.
Thank you for explaining more about the Holiday Drive to our readers. Every year there are tears of joy or screams of excitement when the box is delivered. Behind the scenes there is a lot of time and effort made by JSS volunteers, board members and staff to make this program successful, which you taught me today. Best wishes for another successful Holiday Drive in 2016.
You are right. It is absolutely impossible to manage and carry out this time-consuming operation without the dedicated volunteers including board members of JSS. More importantly, this program cannot exist without the wide range of generous and heart-warming support from other organizations and individual members of the community.
Thank you very much to all the organizations and individual members in the community who contributed to the 16th Holiday Drive and thank you in advance for your continuous support for the program and JSS!
By Takanori Kuge and Marion Yanase