Every year around the holidays, charitable organizations across the country put in motion campaigns and fund raisers in hopes of alleviating stress for families in need.
While people in Ottawa routinely step up in a traditionally generous time of year, the kind of holiday blitz that can create impactful change for community members takes much planning and preparation.
Tiffany Tambeau, a civil servant in Ottawa and mother of two, has been a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters for the last 12 years; and for the last eight years has been the lead coordinator the Holiday Hamper campaign.
“I was looking to give back to the community in some way. That’s why I joined Big Brothers, Big Sisters,” says Tambeau.
“I was looking to do something around the holiday season and this hamper program kind of popped up. Having grown up without a ton of money, I experienced what it’s like to have those financial struggles around the holidays.”
The fulfillment for Tambeau comes from the ability to help other people in the community, ensuring that at least one stressful element of the holidays is taken off their plate.
“Because of COVID we’re trying to reduce those close contacts with people. In the past there have been some sponsors who were unable to deliver their hampers, so I would step in with other volunteers and we would help deliver those,” says Tambeau.
“That was always one of the best parts, just seeing how grateful people are when you bring the hampers. They always have a smile on their face. A lot of the people would give me a big hug, I would tell them I am just delivering this, but they’re just so happy they were given something like this to help get them through the holiday.”
During the Holiday Hamper season Tambeau is charged with coordinating a team of volunteers to match sponsors with families in need. The sponsors are generally government departments, local businesses, and community members who organize themselves annually to donate to local families.
The Holiday Hamper program used to consist of delivering physical goods to families in need around Christmas. However, much like with many other aspects of life in 2021, their current operations are shaped by the pandemic.
For Tambeau, the campaign begins around the end of October and the work continues right through until Christmas. Over the past few years, to accommodate health restrictions, Big Brothers Big Sisters has shifted its holiday hamper program to a gift card model. In doing so, they’ve managed to continue their campaign safely while maintaining the spirit of the program.
“Families will reach out and say they are in need and could use a little help getting through the holiday season. Ideally sponsors will provide a meal or maybe even provide a few little gifts,” says Tambeau.
“So, the sponsors are offering gift cards to grocery stores or for other stores where they can maybe get some small gifts for their children.”
When Tambeau started as a volunteer, she says Big Brothers Big Sisters Ottawa served around 30 families, but today that list has grown to more than 130.
“I have to shoutout to the volunteers who have been coming back year after year and devoting their time to the program,” says Tambeau.
“There’s about four other volunteers helping on our small group. We all work hard to take on lots of different sponsors and keep that communication going. The sponsors have been returning for so many years that the volunteers have gotten to know them really well.”
This year’s window for donations ends December 10, and more information about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa off sites can be found on their website.
“I get to see that long list of families in need that we were able to help this year,” says Tambeau.
“It’s a really nice way to be able to give back to people in our community that are in need, and to put a smile on their faces during the holiday season.”