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Bradford friends head-up gift box program for those in need

The Great Canadian Gift Box was started by two friends in 2018 to help bring necessities to those in need
Great Canadian Giftboxes founders Jenny DiPietro and Lisa Michel.

In the spirit of generosity each holiday season, two Simcoe County residents take it upon themselves to help those in need with a simple, yet effective method. 

Calling all friends, family, neighbours, and businesses; The Great Canadian Gift Box charity is back and bigger than ever. Jenny DiPietro and Lisa Michel started the charity back in 2018 in hopes to raise awareness, educate the public, and helping those in need.

This is how it works: everyone is invited to fill a Ziploc bag of necessities in support of the less fortunate in Simcoe County. All you have to do is deliver it to one of the charity’s drop-off locations and a representative will distribute them to the local shelters as required.

There are about a dozen locations for residents to drop off, which include MIMPA and RBC Bank in Bradford, Cheer Pride Allstars in Barrie, Hill Top Dental Centre in Bond Head, and Anytime Fitness in Tottenham, among others.

DiPietro has been a longtime advocate for helping the homeless and Michel has been a social worker for 15 years.

DiPietro says “I think we both had the same goal, but we approached it differently, which is why I think we melded so well on this initiative.” 

Their team consists of two others: Anne Berg and Nicole Weston.

DiPietro, a mother of four, came up with the idea of the Great Canadian Gift Box after her experience with another organization in Toronto. She and her kids would fill shoe boxes with necessities for the homeless and after seeing how much is needed and how impactful the donations were, she decided to start a similar initiative back home in Simcoe County. Michel was an acquaintance of DiPietro at the time, so when DiPietro reached out to her to help, Michel was on board without question.

“I have a lot of experience working in the community with the homeless,” Michel explains. “It’s a soft spot for me so as soon I heard about Jenny’s idea, I wanted to get involved.” 

A major component of The Great Canadian Gift Box is that youth can get involved, which is important to the organizers.

“It’s important that they learn about poverty and homelessness,” Michel says. “They should understand that some people aren’t as fortunate as others and that it’s important to help those in need.”

Kids from local schools, daycares, and co-ed youth organizations make cards that are included in the packages delivered to the shelters. DiPietro and Michel both stress how much the cards mean to the recipients when the packages are delivered, it’s a reminder that people are thinking of them and care about them.

“The well wishes do mean a lot, and it’s nice to know that your community is behind you,” DiPietro adds. 

Another component of the charity is education, not just for the youth, but for everyone. If one were to visit The Great Canadian Gift Box Facebook page, one would see DiPietro promoting a book about poverty, opportunities for volunteer hours, as well as links to news articles about eviction rates and homeless camps in Simcoe County. In a previous year, a youth group was sent on a shopping spree to find essentials at low costs in what they thought the less fortunate would need most; a first-hand experience to help them understand the importance of everyday items. 

Michel points out that the amount of homeless people in Simcoe County isn’t as evident as in a big city like Toronto, but it exists here and it’s at record numbers, closing in on 1,000 people. Because of this, the team behind The Great Canadian Gift Box is looking for an established local business to step up this year to help meet the demand and help with substantial contributions. While the demand is high, donation items are easily accessible at your everyday retail stores.  Some of the items needed are: 

  • Chapstick
  • Baby wipes
  • First Aid Kits
  • Tampons
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Hand creams
  • Condoms
  • Hats
  • Underwear
  • Blankets
  • Socks
  • Can Openers
  • Rubber bands
  • Batteries
  • Garbage bags

Donations can be made until Dec. 15. To find out more about donating, drop off locations, or how to get involved, send an email to [email protected], or check out their Facebook and Instagram page.