Illustrative GIF of packages sitting on snow

Illustrations by LeeAndra Cianci

Where to donate holiday gifts in Toronto and the GTA

These organizations help low-income individuals and families experience the magic of the season

As the holidays approach, we naturally shift our attention—not to mention time and money—to finding the perfect gifts for our families, friends and colleagues. But they aren’t the only ones who need our care this time of year.

Thankfully, the giving spirit motivates many to look beyond those they know: In Canada, charitable giving topped $9.6 billion in 2017. And the holiday season is an ideal moment to kick-start—or continue—giving to those close to home who are in need.

While you might not think donating a few gifts is a big deal, it is. “For families living below the poverty line, these may be the only gifts they receive this season,” says Amir Akbari, communications and arts programs coordinator at the Boys & Girls Club of East Scarborough.

Sarah Rutka, co-founder of Holiday Helpers, a registered charity dedicated to providing a complete Christmas experience to low-income families, has seen how a donation can change lives and come full circle: “We’ve had families we’ve helped return to us when they’re back on their feet, so they can volunteer and donate their own gifts,” she says. “We’ve seen adults who were sponsored as children wanting to be a part of this. Someone listened to them when they were younger and got them what they needed, and now they want to do to the same [for others].”

Looking to make a difference in someone’s life this festive season? Here are six charities where you can donate holiday gifts in Toronto and the GTA.


Where: Contact shelter for drop-off location

How to donate: Ernestine’s, a United Way partner agency, offers a fun, interactive way to donate clothing, toiletries and food items as part of their annual Winterfest. Host a gift drive—either at the office with your co-workers or at home—or invite guests to an open house and request they bring an item for donation in lieu of a host gift. Be sure to share their list of needed items with invitees so the shelter receives items they can put to use immediately. Drop-offs are accepted on Tuesdays and Thursdays; email Khadija Kathy Ali at to make arrangements.

Who it helps: The items you collect will help Ernestine’s 300+ in-house and outreach clients. Ernestine’s shelter supports women and children who are escaping violence, providing them a safe place for them to stay and services that help families rebuild their lives. Ernestine’s has assisted more than 4,500 women and 5,000 children.

Illustration of packages on snow with presents inside


Where: 25 Charles St. E., Toronto

How to donate: Sanctuary, another United Way partner agency, is seeking donations of winter supplies—think sleeping bags, thermal socks, scarves, hats and gloves—directly to their office. Email to coordinate your drop-off.

Who it helps: Sanctuary works with people who are homeless or marginally housed in downtown Toronto. They offer weekly drop-in programs and provide health clinics, arts classes, community meals and much more. All donations are given directly to their clients, helping them stay warm throughout the winter.

Holiday Helpers

Where: 5407 Eglinton Ave. W., Suite 20, Toronto

How to donate: Holiday Helpers provides donors the opportunity to sponsor a low-income family for the holiday season. This year’s goal is to assist 700 families. If all sponsorships have been filled, the organization will still accept monetary donations to offer further supports.

Who it helps: Holiday Helpers works with low-income GTA, Durham Region and Hamilton families who have children under age 11. Many are new Canadians, and some are recovering from traumatic situations. Donors receive a wish list from the family so they can provide a personalized package. Gifts also include a number of poverty-relief items, such as winter coats, hats and boots. Sponsors also include a $100 grocery-store gift card so the family can buy items for a holiday meal. Families in need can even opt in to receive a Christmas tree.

Durham Children’s Aid Society

Where: 1320 Airport Blvd., Oshawa

How to donate: The Durham Children’s Aid Society, a United Way partner agency, invites donors to sponsor a gift hamper for a child or youth in need. Their Holiday Hope Program delivers the hampers, which include a specific toy, new clothing and food vouchers, to more than 700 families across Durham. Contact Leslie Mclean [] to express interest and be matched with one of their clients.

Who it helps: Durham Children’s Aid Society’s vision is for no child to be left behind. They work to improve the lives of at-risk children in the region, ensuring they have a safe place to live and the resources they need to reach their full potential.

Illustration of packages on snow with gifts inside

Knights Table

Where: 287 Glidden Rd., Unit #4, Brampton

How to donate: Knights Table is looking for donors to sponsor families for their annual Holiday Hampers program. Email to express your interest.

Who it helps: A United Way partner agency, Knights Table works with low-income families throughout Peel Region, with a mandate to alleviate hunger. Their Holiday Hampers are packed with food and winter necessities, as well as gifts families request on their wish lists. Donors can choose the type of Holiday Hamper they want to give—from single individuals up to families with multiple children—and can hand-deliver it if they like.

Boys & Girls Club of East Scarborough

Where: 100 Galloway Rd., Scarborough

How to donate: Boys & Girls Club of East Scarborough is looking for donations for the following holiday programs: The Holiday Box (a program that gives families small items they need for day-to-day life), Sponsor a Child (a program where you purchase gifts, clothing and groceries for a child) and their Toy Drive (where you can drop off an unwrapped toy that will be gifted to a child). Deadlines for donations is Dec. 15. Contact the centre at 416-281-0262 if you’d like to get involved.

Who it helps: The Boys & Girls Club of East Scarborough provides services to 5,000 low-income children and youth from the surrounding area. Services include licensed childcare, early-years programs, before- and after-school programs, sports and recreation clubs, and leadership development.

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