Charity Spotlight: This post was written by Geneviève Gélinas, Senior Elf and Coordinator with The Little Elves Foundation, as part of our ongoing charity spotlight series.
Picture this: It’s fall 2016 and as you visit the famed Jean-Talon Market in Montreal, you encounter a number of smiling folks, young and old, wearing red and green elf hats and matching aprons.
While you savour the sweet and spicy roasted nuts sample they hand out, these elves will explain how all profits will go towards the distribution of over 4,000 holiday gifts to lone or isolated men, women, and children affected by HIV-AIDS across Canada, and behind it all, the team at The Little Elves Foundation works to make this happen. We work to break the social isolation that is very often related to living with HIV-AIDS by providing a little magic and comfort in the form of a brightly wrapped gift filled with good wishes!
As you buy a package of warm nuts, or leave change in the donation box, you may still wonder: “4,000 gifts. Wow. How did that come about?”
Once Upon a Time, There Was a Little Elf.
The idea of the Little Elves was born in the fall of 1991 following the death of Sylvain’s brother, Alain. Even with the constant love and support from his family, Alain’s fight against AIDS had been difficult. It was Sylvain that figured it must be even worse for those who are not surrounded by their family and friends, especially during the holidays.
So Sylvain thought, what could he do to help?
Our single original elf answered this question with a gesture from the heart. On Christmas Eve 1991, he anonymously bought and distributed gifts to residents of two AIDS hospices in Montreal. The initiative seemed to please the residents very much, and our elf also felt good giving. He repeated the experience for another six years without breathing a word to anyone.
In 1997, he let his sister in on his secret. With her help, he recruited some more elves and donors, and gave away about 100 gifts in the Greater Montreal area. With the constitution of a not-for-profit foundation with charitable status in 2002, the number of volunteers, donors, and recipients has continuously increased year after year.
Fast forward to 2015, a record year: 4,196 gifts sent to 54 hospitals, hospices, outpatient clinics and community organizations from Newfoundland to the Yukon, and everywhere in between!
Our Recipients Keep Us Going
As the nature of HIV/AIDS has evolved from a deadly to chronic disease, one would think the social stigma associated with the disease would fade. Sadly, the ‘thank you’ notes from our recipients such as the ones featured below show otherwise:
“I am a woman living with AIDS in Toronto and my nurse from [centre] just dropped a gift to me from your organization. Not having any family support, I cannot tell you how wonderful this is to have a gift to open on Christmas Morning. I guess I’m still a kid at heart even though I am a grandmother, but since my AIDS diagnoses, my family has chosen to disown me, and this is one special gift. From my heart I thank you.”
“Many people who come here have had lives marked by trauma and neglect. They have often been rejected by family, friends, and society. Challenged by HIV/AIDS, addiction or mental illness – and in many cases all three – as well as the related illnesses that plague those with compromised immunity, they have nowhere to go. Your donation makes an important difference to the people we serve. In opening your heart to provide these special gifts, you are also offering respect, dignity and a sense of belonging to people who are most in need.”
Our Volunteers and Donors Drive Us Too
As you can imagine, raising the funds necessary, and then procuring, wrapping, and shipping our gifts requires a well organized army of elves.
The intrinsic nature of a holiday related charity requires us to focus our fundraising efforts in September, October and November with our market kiosk. The pressure during this time is immense as we need to reach our approximate $30,000 fundraising goal before December so we can hold our Great Wrapping Weekend early enough to guarantee our gifts will be shipped to the far corners of the country on time.
The Little Elves Foundation’s work is entirely funded by donations from in-kind partners, the public, fundraising events, and kiosk sales. The foundation has no employees, functioning with a core group of seven senior elves, and an extended team of over 250 elves—all of which are volunteers.
To learn more about The Little Elves Foundation, or to make a donation, please visit their Charity Profile Page.