This holiday season, instead of opening an Advent calendar where you receive a goodie each day, Kawartha Food Share is asking community members to collect just one food item each day to give back to those in need.
The organization’s “Reverse Advent Calendar” launched on Friday (December 1) and will run until the food share’s final day of collection ahead of the holidays on Thursday, December 21st.
The process is simple: Kawartha Food Share suggests one item per day on the calendar to be put aside into a box so that, at the end of the 21 days, people will have a full box of items to give to a family needing support this holiday season.
“It’s such a good way to get involved and a fun way to get kids involved,” says Ashlee Aitken, general manager of Kawartha Food Share, which distributes to food banks and food cupboards across Peterborough County. “Rather than just getting a chocolate from an Advent calendar, you’re giving something to someone in need.”
Prior to annually launching the calendar six years ago, Aitken explains, community members would reach out to Kawartha Food Share to inquire about priority items or donating hampers during the holiday season. The organization created the Reverse Advent calendar to help community members see the items that are most in-demand in the region and to help them curate their own box of goods, one item at a time.
She adds that the Reverse Advent calendar also gives classrooms and other groups the opportunity to present challenges with collecting the items.
“If every student had one item or every family brought in one item each day of the month, it all adds up very quickly,” says Aitken. “It’s meant to be small items each day that are feasible for a family to donate and at the end of the month, we give it to someone that needs it.”
With days devoted to toiletries, toilet paper, baby food, snacks, and treats, the calendar suggests a range of items to ensure the box is well-rounded to meet a family’s needs.
“There’s a bit of everything,” Aitken notes. “Oftentimes when donating to food banks, you just think of the non-perishables, but there’s so much more that we offer, including toiletries and other items.”
While the calendar makes up the recommendations for each day to go into the donated box, Kawartha Food Share will adjust the items in a box based on a specific family’s needs before giving them to the family.
“Not every family needs things like baby food, for example, so we will pull them out of the ones who don’t and give to those who do,” says Aitken, adding that every item on the Reverse Advent calendar including baby food is needed by someone. “Items like that are very expensive for our clients and are always great to have.”
This year, the Real Canadian Superstore at Lansdowne Place Mall in Peterborough contacted Kawartha Food Share to offer support to the project. Each day, the corresponding item on the calendar will be located near the checkouts to make it easy for donors to find. Rather than grabbing that last-minute chocolate bar they don’t need, it encourages community members to make a meaningful purchase that gives back to those in the community.
“We really appreciate Superstore’s support,” says Aitken. “They’ve been really big champions of ours for a long time but having them do this is another bonus for us.”
Though community members are always eager to give this time of year, Aitken explains the need is even more dire this year as food banks supported by Kawartha Food Share have been seeing an increased demand because of socioeconomic factors.
“It’s been a challenging couple of years for many people in our community, especially this year with the cost of food rising significantly,” Aitken points out.
The rising cost of food has also diminished Kawartha Food Share’s wholesale buying power when it comes to monetary donations, according to Aitken. In 2021, the food share could purchase up to $6 worth of food with every $1 donated. Today, that $1 can only purchase up to $4 worth of food or even less, with the cost of some items now equal to their retail value.
“It’s less that our agencies can purchase, and it’s been a challenging year trying to keep up with the demands,” she says. “But doing these fun little initiatives that get people engaged and giving back in an easy way always really benefits us and those in need.”
The Reverse Advent calendar is made up of suggestions for those needing guidance. Kawartha Food Share also encourages and accepts donations of all kinds, even if they are not listed on the calendar.
Items listed on the Reverse Advent calendar can be purchased all at once and donated immediately or they can be collected over the 21 days, as long as they are dropped off at Kawartha Food Share by Thursday, December 21st so the organization has time to give them to families ahead of the holidays.
“Peterborough is such an extremely generous community,” says Aitken. “The people that support us do so because they want to help their fellow community members. They are so generous and we really appreciate the support.”
All boxes and individual donations can be dropped off at Kawartha Food Share’s warehouse at 665 Neal Drive in Peterborough between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday to Thursday until December 21. For more information about Kawartha Food Share and the 36 member agencies it supports, visit kawarthafoodshare.com.