Secret Santa expands to year-round crisis relief

Sunshine Coast Secret Santa is expanding into a year-round crisis outreach organization.

Board members decided to move ahead with the change at their Jan. 6 meeting, and are applying for non-profit charitable status under the name Coastal Crisis Outreach.

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“Especially the families who are going through medical crisis, some of those families really need support for more than just Christmas time,” said founder Zoe Barbaro.

Secret Santa has been operating as an informal charity since 2011. In 2019, the group raised more than $54,000 to provide people with Christmas hampers and financial support for basic necessities.

In addition to running Secret Santa, the group is planning to launch REACH, an acronym of respectful, endeavours, anonymous, community and helping hands. It would provide financial relief for people and families whose circumstances change unexpectedly through illness or death, for example.  “It gives us more options,” said Barbaro of the program.

Community services, Ministry of Children and Family Development and individuals can nominate and validate people and families. The board then makes the final decision through a vote.

The focus for 2020 is to create a crisis relief fund that’s “available to help anybody in the community,” said Barbaro. A fundraising event is being planned for the summer, and the option for individuals or organizations to provide monthly donations is under consideration.

The group is preserving its volunteer board and plans to recruit additional members who can lead aspects of each program. “We will be looking to expand. We will be looking for more volunteers,” Barbaro said.

The group has always planned to provide support outside of Christmas. “From the first year we started, we saw a need for that,” said Barbaro. Because of its growing network, more people have reached out to the group when a crisis arises. “Because of that we feel we’re in a unique position to be able to facilitate.”

One example is paying for child care to help a parent whose spouse has died suddenly get back on their feet. Other examples include paying for electricity, groceries and gas.

Seniors with health challenges and whose fixed incomes don’t cover basic needs, such as pet care or house cleaning, could also benefit, as would individuals whose insurance doesn’t cover items lost in a fire.

“We’re trying to fill in the gaps. That’s why we put crisis into our name. That’s usually what we’re there for,” said Barbaro.

She speaks from experience. Her father died suddenly when she was a teenager. “I was raised for the rest of my life by my mom… It made me more aware of the reality that tragedies can happen at any time. Community support is something that can be so valuable,” she said.

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