As winter descends on Ottawa and with the holidays around the corner, charitable organizations are bracing for what is expected to be a challenging season. Demand is up, donations are down and volunteers are harder to find, according to the 2023 Giving Report from Canada Helps.

But giving is, as they say, good for the soul, through volunteering or by financial donations. One local grandmother wrote the Orléans-Cumberland Community Resource Centre to explain how the organization had helped her.

The grandmother and her daughter were raising seven children under one roof.

“But Christmas was approaching, and I began feeling anxious and worried,” she wrote. “What was I going to do? Who could I turn to? Fortunately, I saw an ad about the Orléans-Cumberland Community Resource Centre’s Christmas Program in my community. …

“I didn’t know what to expect when it came to pick up the gifts. Walking through the Centre, I saw rows of boxes filled with toys lining the hallways. I had difficulty breathing because I was overwhelmed by how supportive everybody at the Centre was. …

“When it came time for the kiddies to open their gifts at Christmas, they were all overjoyed. … There were cute hair things, elastics, brushes for long, think, curly hair, detanglers and bath balms for the girls. There were Paw Patrol toys, Legos, Play-Doh, games, and batteries for the boys. … Thanks to the OCCRC’s Christmas Program and the support of their donors, everyone had a magical Christmas filled with love and gratitude.”

It’s a welcome helping hand but where can an interested person get started? Capital Current has compiled a list of some of the organizations that support Ottawa’s most vulnerable including the furry ones.

The list includes recommendations from some city councillors, who have made a case for worthy causes in their wards. You can support them in big or little ways, through donations, volunteering or other avenues.

Ottawa Paw Pantry

Woman with pet food donations, standing next to can.
An Ottawa Paw Pantry volunteer shows off some pet food donations from Loblaws, Merivale Road. [Photo courtesy Ottawa Pet Pantry]

The Ottawa Paw Pantry is basically a food bank for pets. It accepts unexpired/unopened food and distributes it to those in need.

For those who need the petfood, there are local pantries where residents can pick up food “no questions asked.” You can also request “direct support” through an online application up to three times a year.

If you’re interested in supporting the organization, you can donate food at a drop-off location or sign up for a monthly or one-time monetary donation. You could also sign up as a volunteer. If you’re in the unique position of owning a local business/organization, you could also sign up to become a community partner.

Shawna’s Outreach

Shawna’s Outreach really is just one woman.

Barrhaven Coun. Wilson Lo noted that Shawna Thibodeau also has a book, Shawna’s Outreach, which can be purchased online. [Photo courtesy Wilson Lo]

“Shawna Thibodeau is a resident in my ward who collects donations of food, items, gift cards, and anything that can help somebody in need anywhere in the city,” said Barrhaven East Coun. Wilson Lo. “Embodying every sense of the word ‘grassroots,’ her campaign has helped people across the city and has been recognized by several organizations including the Ottawa RedBlacks and Faces Magazine.”

Thibodeau has a Facebook page where she regularly posts about donations she’s received and community events anyone can participate in.

She also has a curated Amazon Wishlist, with items that people can buy. Those items would then be shipped to Thibodeau, who distributes them to those in need. This eliminates the need for co-ordinating a drop-off or guessing about the kinds of donation items she needs.

Matthew House

A volunteer moves a chair in a furniture storage facility.
[Some of the Furniture Bank items that Matthew House has on hand for newcomers to the Capital. [Photo courtesy Matthew House]

Kanata North Coun. Cathy Curry was quick to underline to Capital Current the importance of Matthew House, an organization focused on supporting refugees who arrive in Ottawa.

A portrait of Councillor Cathy Curry
Kanata North Coun. Cathy Curry. [Photo courtesy City of Ottawa]

“The demand for services has increased greatly throughout this year,” said Brynn Brieda, communications coordinator at Matthew House. “Our Refugee Services program especially (has seen demand soar), due to the serious increase of asylum seekers entering Canada and overrun emergency shelters in downtown Ottawa.”

Matthew House provides a place for refugees to live while they get on their feet and supports them as they strive to find a job and stable housing. One of its programs is the Furniture Bank, which accepts gently used furniture that is then provided to newcomers and low-income families.

“This program is always in need of bedding, blankets, quilts, towels, etc. because when residents move out, they take their linens with them,” Brieda said. “So every resident who moves in is another set of bedding and linens that we need donated to us!”

Matthew House also needs funds, which supports the refugee houses, and furniture to be claimed by clients who are permanently housed.

Britannia Woods Community House

The Britannia Woods Community House is a community agency in Britannia Heights.

Bay Ward Coun. Theresa Kavanagh. [Photo courtesy City of Ottawa]

“The Britannia Woods Community House provides a wide range of wraparound programs and supports to individuals and families navigating inequities,” said Bay Ward Coun. Theresa Kavanagh, who recommended it.

“They ensure residents in the immediate Britannia Woods neighourhood and surrounding areas have access to social, educational, economic and recreational supports they need to maintain optimal well-being.”

People can support BWCH with monetary or food donations any time of year. Food donations go towards its Food Pantry, part of the Ottawa Food Bank, and its Grab and Go lunch program for kids whose families are experiencing food insecurity.

People can donate their time as well.

Ottawa Tool Library

Two men are wearing masks and leaning over a project, staining the wood.
Members of the Ottawa Tool Library work on one of the many projects that the library supports. [Photo courtesy Ottawa Tool Library]

The Ottawa Tool Library is exactly what it sounds like: a place to borrow the specialized tools needed for home and DIY projects, from deep-carpet cleaners to precision saws. Its members pay an annual or monthly fee for access to its wide selection.

In addition to the tools it has to lend to members, it hosts classes to teach work safety and niche skills, like using a lathe. Space in the workshop can also be rented.

The organization is volunteer-run, so offering time is a great way to help. They also give free access to the library to volunteers who help regularly.

People can donate money, but the OTL is also looking for underused household tools. It might have been sitting in the shed for a while, or you may have just gotten a shiny new one to replace the old; either way, donating it ensures it won’t go to waste. If the OTL doesn’t need it for the library, it will refurbish the tool and sell it second-hand to raise funds.

St. John Ambulance

“I have a slightly non-traditional recommendation for the Christmas/Holiday season,” said Riverside South-Findlay Creek Coun. Steve Desroches. “I would like to highlight the local volunteer first-aid work of St. John Ambulance.” 

A portrait of Councillor Steve Desroches
Riverside South-Findlay Creek Coun. Steve Desroches. [Photo courtesy City of Ottawa]

St. John Ambulance organizations are found all over the world, where they teach first aid and emergency medical services. It makes them a familiar staple for many communities.

“Their training and medical interventions have helped saved lives and enabled more loved ones to celebrate Christmas and the holidays,” said Desroches. 

“Their humanitarian work has helped save lives and added years to life for many people. The local branch is very active and has helped sustain healthy communities.”

St. John Ambulance programs are largely organized and run by volunteers, so there are always ways to help out.

Those passionate about providing first aid can join its Emergency Response Units, which activate during natural disasters, or its Medical First Response teams, which attend public events.

Those with friendly dogs can enroll it in the Therapy Dog program.

“The St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog program has supported many people by providing comfort and joy to residents and seniors who are sick and lonely, which is particularly important during the holiday period,” said Desroches.

Monetary donations can also be made on a local or national level.

The Kanata Food Cupboard

Cathy Curry also highlighted the Kanata Food Cupboard which has a special “Adopt-a-Family” program set up to support families in need over the holidays.

“Last Christmas 698 Kanata families came to the Kanata Food Cupboard for assistance for the holidays,” according to its website. “Help us, help them.”

When you adopt a family, you support them by providing a Christmas dinner, goodies, toiletries, and gifts for the children. You can do this by shopping for the items yourself or providing funds (physically with gift cards or digitally) so the family shops for itself.

If you don’t feel you can participate in the Adopt-a-Family program, the Kanata Food Cupboard can always benefit from support through donations or volunteering.

Osgoode Food Cupboard

A portrait of Councillor George Darouze
Osgoode Coun. George Darouze. [Photo courtesy of the City of Ottawa]

The Osgoode Food Cupboard is a food bank recommended by Osgoode Coun. George Darouze. It is organized by the Osgoode Village Community Association.

“With inflation and food inflation being the way it has been the past few years, their work has becoming increasingly needed and valuable for those in need,” said Darouze. “I think this is especially important as we are coming into the holiday season and some people are choosing between paying bills and putting food on the table, and the Osgoode Food Cupboard does a wonderful job helping families in need.”

Darouze added “there are so many great organizations in Ward 20 that do great things for the community, so it was hard to focus on one.”

The OVCA also runs Osgoode’s Christmas in the Village during the holiday season. Fees associated with the events go to support the food cupboard, and they also collect non-perishable food donations during the events.

Cornerstone Housing

Somerset Coun. Ariel Troster said Ottawans might consider Cornerstone Housing for Women this holiday season.

“Cornerstone Housing provides shelter and supportive housing for women and gender-diverse people transitioning out of homelessness,” said Troster. “They do exceptional work and work with some of the most vulnerable women in our community.”

Right now, Cornerstone is organizing two special ways to help out over the holidays. First, the Holiday Gift Program asks you to put together a little gift bag for one of the Cornerstone residents. Second, businesses can contribute by donating stocking stuffers to the cause. The items it’s seeking are listed in the images below.

Cornerstone also has other ways people can help support its cause.

  • Food Donations
    • Food can be donated to particular residences by contacting Cornerstone.
  • Monetary Donations
    • Funds can be donated by mail or online.
  • Urgent Needs (Item Donations)
    • The webiste lists items that are needed as soon as possible based on current needs and is updated regularly. For the winter, it lists (at the time of publication): winter boots, jackets, socks, and gloves, as well as kettles, toasters, coffee machines, and blankets.
  • Amazon Wishlists
    • The Cornerstone website is regularly updated with wishlists for each of its housing residences. Items can be purchased by you and sent to that residence through Amazon without hassle.

Parkdale Food Centre

Ariel Troster wears a shirt that says "Preston & Somerset & Gladstone & Bank & Elgin" while standing in front of a graffitied wall.
Somerset Coun. Ariel Troster.[Photo courtesy Ariel Troster]

Troster also recommended the Parkdale Food Centre. It keeps Ottawans fed through a variety of diverse programs and community-based events.

“The Parkdale Food Centre provides community meals, food security programing, training and mentorship, and a market-style food bank that serves West Centretown and Hintonburg,” she said. “They promote food as a human right and work to challenge economic inequality.”

PFC needs a lot of volunteers for its many events. It runs ‘Recipes For Change’ workshops about preparing meals and the impact of food, organizes the Mino’Weesini Grocery Program, operates a community fridge and pantry, hosts community meals, and plans an annual survey to better understand how to help food insecure people in Ottawa.

Adults can get involved as a volunteer by signing up on its website and youth can join special programs designed to encourage them to “become advocates in their communities.”

If you don’t have time to offer, you can also make monetary donations on the website.

Options Bytown

Options Bytown was founded in 1987 by Ottawa residents and community organizations who believed a “solution beyond shelters was needed” for the homeless. Now, it operates four houses, eight resource centes, and a program to help those who struggle with hoarding. It was recommended by Rideau-Vanier Coun. Stéphanie Plante and Troster.

Stéphanie Plante and family
Rideau-Vanier Coun. Stéphanie Plante with her family. [Photo courtesy Stéphanie Plante]

“They have a 92 per cent success rate in keeping formerly chronically homeless people housed after two years,” said Troster. “They also provide support and services in the community, using a Housing First model.”

In a “housing-first” approach, organizations start with providing safe housing for homeless individuals, then focus on other issues they may be experiencing. Options Bytown lists three main ways to support its work on the website.

People can donate funds or items (a list of the most-needed items right now is available online). Or people can volunteer. It notes that you don’t need to be a recurring volunteer; you can also sign up for a “one-off” opportunity, like thanksgiving dinners or helping to renovate a space. Third, people can host a fundraiser. It offers a toolkit with resources to help you on that journey and contact details to get you started.

Ottawa Food Bank

Ottawa Food Bank volunteers sort donations in this 2013 file photo.
Ottawa Food Bank volunteers sort donations. [File Photo: courtesy of Ottawa Food Bank]
Alta Vista Coun. Marty Carr [Photo courtesy]

Alta Vista Coun. Marty Carr suggests people consider donating to the Ottawa Food Bank, citing the Ottawa Hunger Report 2023.

“It is alarming,” Carr said of the report. “Food security is at an all-time high. I also have four food banks and a food cupboard in my ward, but I think for this year, I will just encourage everyone to give food where they can to help.”

The Ottawa Food Bank works with 112 diverse food programs across the city. Some are food cupboards, but it also includes school food programs and emergency services. According to the OFB, people from “all walks of life” come for food assistance, and more than a third of them are children.

“Annually the Ottawa Food Bank network receives over 490,000 visits from people in Ottawa seeking food assistance,” said Tricia Johnson, director of communications and development for the OFB. “This marks a substantial increase of 22 per cent compared to 2022 and a significant 68 per cent surge since the pre-pandemic period (2019).”

To support the Food Bank, people can donate the usual suspects, like canned goods, but financial donations are also valued because the money can be put towards “fresh” food.

“Every $16 you give provides enough fresh and nutritious food to fill a table for a family of four,” said Johnson. “Forty per cent of the food distributed by the Ottawa Food Bank is fresh. That includes a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables such as apples, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and squash. Fresh also includes poultry, ground beef, bread, dairy and eggs.”

People can donate money online and the food bank welcomes volunteers to help with at its warehouses, farms, and food drives. There are also other local organizations that need help.

Barrhaven Food Cupboard

Barrhaven West Coun. David Hill with his family. [Photo courtesy David Hill]

“From when our community was a simple neighborhood to now a bustling suburb, the Barrhaven Food Cupboard has been a staple for decades,” said Barrhaven West Coun. David Hill. “When the residents face tough times, such as the recent tornados, the Barrhaven Food Cupboard is there to boost them when they need it the most.”

The BFC is volunteer-run and community-supported. It describes its mission as “neighbours helping neighbours.”

“Poverty in the suburbs is dangerous, because it’s not obvious,” said Barrhaven East Coun. Wilson Lo. “It could be hidden behind the façade of a well-maintained townhouse, so it’s easy to forget people in need in Barrhaven could very well be our neighbours, our children’s school friends, or our colleagues. Residents in the community have generously supported the Barrhaven Food Cupboard for several years, but the need now is greater than ever, with food bank demand up almost 75 per cent from before the pandemic.”

As with other food banks, donations of funds or non-perishable food items are appreciated. People can also volunteer for essential tasks like picking up and dropping off groceries.

Since the holidays can be hard, there will be a Stonebridge Holiday Food Drive on Dec. 16 in support of the BFC. Donations can be dropped off at 10 Oakbriar Cres.

Orléans-Cumberland Community Resource Centre

Orléans South-Navan Coun. Catherine Kitts. [Photo courtesy Catherine Kitts]

Orléans South-Navan Coun. Catherine Kitts suggests support for the Orléans-Cumberland Community Resource Centre, which provides services such as employment help to financial counselling to kids’ mental-health workshops.

“The OCCRC is an incredible community resource centre that offers programming, resources for all ages,” said Kitts. “We truly would encourage people to support them if possible.”

Its 2023 Christmas Program aims to support struggling families over the holiday season.

“The holiday season is a time of joy, togetherness, and giving,” wrote Executive Director Luc Ouellette in a letter announcing the program. “However, for many in our community facing financial challenges, it can be a time of uncertainty and hardship. The rising cost of living, driven by inflation, energy and high food prices, has placed an even greater burden on those experiencing food insecurity.”

The centre accepts donations of money or food. People can also sponsor a family’s holiday celebration.

Chrysalis House

A portrait of Councillor Glen Gower
Stittsville Coun. Glen Gower. [Photo courtesy City of Ottawa]

Chrysalis House is a 25-bed shelter for “any self-identified woman or gender-diverse individual” who needs to “protect themselves and their dependants from violence and abuse.”

Run by the Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre, the Chrysalis House provides emotional, financial, and legal counselling, safe group activities, and further community resources to people in need.

“They are always looking for donations of household items and gift cards to support their clients,” said Stittsville Coun. Glen Gower.

You can find a full list of items needed by Chrysalis House for Fall/Winter 2023 at this link. To donate funds or volunteer, go through the WOCRC.

Wabi Sabi

Yarn for sale and hanging on a display.
Yarn on display for purchase at Wabi Sabi in the Hintonburg neighbourhood. [Photo © Gabrielle Huston]

Crafters can make a small difference at Wabi Sabi, a small, independent yarn store in Hintonburg.

Crafter’s Night is a special social event that Wabi Sabi hosts, among all its other workshops and programs. Crafters of all kinds can come together and socialize while they work on their projects. Pre-pandemic, it was a weekly occurance. Since they’ve restarted it after the COVID-19 lockdowns, it’s been held once a month. The store owner, Judy Enright-Smith, plans to host it twice a month in 2024.

There’s a $5 fee to attend Crafter’s Night. All the money goes to a charitable cause, a different one each month.

“I pick charities that are close to my heart,” Enright-Smith said. “Food and kids and suicide prevention, I think, are my top three. I’m also going to give money to the Ottawa Japanese Community Centre, because Wabi Sabi is a Japanese term and we want to honour them. We spoke to them about the name and they’re perfectly with with it, but they’re on our list of associations that we want to contribute money to.”