Recognizing the difficulties that the holidays can pose to their clients, Scarborough Health Network (SHN) has taken part in CMHA Toronto’s holiday gift program for many years. Nicole Kitchen (pictured right), a counsellor who works with SHN’s two residential programs, has been involved in the process from start to finish: from shopping for gifts with CMHA Toronto’s holiday gift program lead, Kerri Glover, to wrapping them and – the best part of the process! – presenting them to her clients.
Nicole shared her thoughts about what impact the program has on the people who receive gifts and those, like her, who give them.
"As much as it's helping them, it's helping us too. It's really a big deal. CMHA Toronto puts in a lot of work, and they do it all year. So that's kind of the reward at the end for everybody, to see the look on people’s faces is wonderful," Nicole said.
It’s rewarding to be able to hand them the gift and see their face light up. As much as it's helping them, it's helping us too.
For Nicole, the holiday gift program is a reminder of the true meaning of the holidays. It serves as an opportunity for individuals facing challenging circumstances, especially those without family support, to feel cared for and remembered during what can be an isolating time of the year. This is especially important for those in the midst of their mental health or addictions recovery journey, for whom the festive season – filled with societal expectations and family obligations – can often be a trigger for past traumas.
The holiday gift program steps in at this time of year to provide not only material support but also emotional relief for clients and, in the past several years, their children.
Reflecting on the impact of the program, Nicole shares the story of a past resident, an avid reader and artist, who received a simple yet meaningful gift: a pair of reading socks. Those socks became a cherished possession. “The fuzziness and the warmth, she treasured that pair of socks. I would see her in them and she would, every time, comment about how much she loved those socks. She would tell me about what it was like for her when she put them on and she sat and read her book or she would paint,” Nicole recalled.
It just keeps reminding me how important a small gift like that is. It might be a pair of socks to us but it's such a treasure for somebody else.
Christine, a current resident who also received a pair of reading socks, named them as her favourite gift. She shared her perspective on the value of the holiday gift program, which goes beyond the item itself: "It means that someone is looking out for you during what may be the most difficult time of the year," Christine said, adding that the gesture can have a big impact on an individual's well-being.
Case managers and counsellors at CMHA Toronto and its partnering agencies often deal with people who are at one of the lowest points in their lives. The holiday gift program provides an opportunity to share moments of joy and gratitude that might not be at the forefront during their usual day-to-day interactions. “Everybody is so appreciative,” Nicole agreed, “and it's not just ‘oh, thanks.’ It's ‘thank you, thank you so very much.’ These gifts really are appreciated," she said.
At the holidays, the gift program is a testament to the power of kindness and a celebration of how a simple gesture can create a significant connection – the gifts we all have within us to give.