Ten years ago, a friend and I started an initiative to help newcomers during the holidays.

We donated a large load of groceries to a newcomer family in need. We connected with the family through my mother’s friend.

Two years later, in 2012, I connected to the Catholic Centre for Immigrants through a colleague I was working with at the time.

This colleague’s husband (Paul) was a team member at CCI Ottawa. She told me about the organization’s work and how I could learn more.

I touched base with Paul who gave me a great overview of CCI’s work in our community and how we could be a help to a family during the holiday season.

During the ensuing years, Paul (and later also Marianela) remained my contact, always connecting us with families and individuals and giving us details about what the families needed so we could help them as much as possible.

They are superstars. From my very first experience, right up until today, I am forever grateful and aware of the work CCI Ottawa and its team does for our newest community members.

They have always made the process of connecting to families easy and have always supported us when we came back with questions or needed more details. I’ve learned so much about what it’s like to come to Canada as a refugee, what the barriers are for newcomers when they arrive, and what is most crucial for families as they work to rebuild their lives.

During the years, we’ve collected tens of thousands of dollars in donations and in-kind items, including new toys, groceries, furniture, clothing, housewares, and more. We’ve helped families stock their shelves for months, outfit rooms, obtain needed items, and pay for expenses we couldn’t provide (e.g. housing costs, medical support).

Through CCI I’ve had the amazing opportunity to meet numerous families and individuals over the years.

Through this project, my partner and I met one family about five years ago. We are now close friends. We have done so much with them. We’ve met each other’s families, had BBQs together, helped them establish themselves (help with school, work, learning English, and navigating household needs), attended each other’s celebrations, and done fun outings together (museums, festivals). It wouldn’t have happened were it not for CCI connecting us so many years ago. We’re all still friends to this day. They’re awesome!

I’ve organized this project each year. We call it the Welcome Hampers Project. We couldn’t do it without the many donors – upwards of 100 people annually – who come together and make it the massive success it is.

This year, we raised $6,175 thanks to their generosity and drive to help our newest neighbours. The people who donate to this project are personal friends, family, neighbours, and perfect strangers who discovered our work and wanted to help us.

The project has steadily grown year after year. We started by helping one family during the holidays, then two, then four, and this year, we helped eight different groups (families and individuals) because so much support came in.

We are passionate about helping newcomers because we understand the unimaginable feats these people have overcome just to get to Canada. Now that they’re here, there still face so many barriers and challenges as they work to build better lives.

It’s my hope that some members of the Welcome Hamper Project will branch off and create their own Welcome Hamper Project (something I’ve seen happen during the past few years), and build their own project to help even more people. The goal is to spread the impact by inviting them to create their own circles to help others. We know it makes a real difference when that happens.

We believe this is what community members do for one another. This is what it means to be Canadian. We stand up, come together, and help our fellow neighbours when they need it. We understand how privileged we are. We know we have the capacity to deeply help others who are struggling, especially when we come together.

Written by Savanna Schiavo