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Gifts in Kind program makes basic needs accessible

4 MIN READ

Story Highlights: 

  • United Way established Gifts in Kind in 2001 to ease the burden of purchasing essentials like clothes and furniture for people who struggle financially.

  • Gifts in Kind works with more than 200 non-profit organizations to reduce the effects of poverty for thousands of people each year.

  • Thanks to United Way and Gifts in Kind, charities like Immigrant Women Services Ottawa can help their community members access basic needs.

Amenah Abdulhameed, manager of Settlement Integration at Immigrant Women Services Ottawa, sees how moving to a new country can take a toll on women.

“We receive thousands of women every year. Whether they’re fleeing abuse, going through transitional housing or even newcomers who have nothing other than what they’re wearing,” she explains. 

For people who are already in vulnerable situations, meeting their basic needs can be overwhelming and expensive. The Gifts in Kind program, run by the Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre and powered by United Way East Ontario, bridges the gap between residents who need essentials, the social services that support them, and organizations that have resources to spare. 

Established by United Way in 2001, Gifts in Kind gathers donations of new, surplus goods and services from individuals, corporations, government, and nonprofits, and distributes them to a network of more than 200 community partners in the Ottawa region. Over the last 10 years, Gifts in Kind has provided more than $10 million worth of necessities to hundreds of thousands of residents in need. 

Giving the gift of support 

United Way works with hundreds of partner organizations across East Ontario to create long-term solutions that reduce poverty for the next generation. While we do that, we also continue to help people meet their basic needs and get through crisis. 

Every month, Immigrant Women Services Ottawa (IWSO) receives 20 to 30 pieces of clothing that are distributed to women in need. “Receiving these gifts makes them feel that they belong, that someone cares,” says Amenah. 

But Rasha Sweidan, Program Officer for Gifts in Kind, stresses that the impact of the program runs deeper than just providing items to clients for free. 

“We also focus on assisting our partner organizations in their growth and strengthening efforts. This involves helping them to build capacity for their programs," she says. Donations of corporate furniture, computers, printers, and training help charities with small budgets scale up their operations. 

Gifts in Kind operates like an online shopping inventory: charitable organizations are given credits and can log in to the website to browse and request specific goods and services like brand new clothes, personal protective equipment, hygiene products, school supplies, and toys that they then distribute to their clients. 

Gifts in Kind’s main storage room at the Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre is wall-to-wall of neatly organized bins of donated goods for men, women, and children. In 2021, the program was revamped with the introduction of new storage facilities, its online catalog, and an advanced distribution system. Most recently, in March 2024, Gifts in Kind moved into a bigger and brighter space at the RRCRC, celebrating the program’s growth over the past 20 plus years of partnership with United Way. 

Unveiling of Gift in Kind’s new space: March 2024

Responding to crisis 

During the early days of the pandemic, Gifts in Kind was a key partner with the City of Ottawa’s Human Needs Task Force in protecting the public from the spread of COVID-19.  

“We acted as a distribution center for 213 nonprofit agencies registered with our program,” Rasha says. “We completed the distribution of a few million products such as masks, face shields, hand sanitizers, gowns, safety goggles, and wipes provided by different types of donors.” 

Now, coming out of the pandemic, Gifts in Kind is helping residents as they face rising economic challenges. “The post-pandemic landscape has witnessed a surge in demand for our services,” says Rasha. “Families facing economic challenges require essentials like never before. The need for basics like food and clothing has grown, emphasizing the crucial role of Gifts in Kind.” 

Creating community 

Everyone deserves to build the life they want for themselves and their families. 

But without the right clothing for a job interview, enough food to feed a family, or bedding to ensure a good night’s sleep, many people are stuck in survival mode. 

When we remove the stress that comes with making ends meet, people can focus on finding the right job for their skillset and planning a brighter future.

“We believe Gifts in Kind helps clients with a fresh start, a sense of dignity, boosting their self-esteem and confidence to make them feel valued and respected."

Your gift to United Way East Ontario empowers people in your community to achieve financial independence and stability. 
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