Believe Bags effort continues to grow in Orangeville

November 25, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By JAMES MATTHEWS, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Karen Ross Smith saw a need one Christmas season.

And the Orangeville woman, along with volunteers and generous donors, have been addressing that need for a decade so far.

Ross Smith said she was doing a little holiday shopping just a few weeks before Christmas in 2012. And that’s when she noticed one facet of society that seemed to be overlooked amid all the yuletide charity.

“I noticed a number of amazing toy drives and various other fundraisers but nothing geared to the single moms who would be struggling to get gifts together for their children,” she said.

And that’s how the annual collection and distribution of Believe Bags came to be.

“The following week, I was attending a Secret Santa gift exchange with some girlfriends and asked how they would feel to instead fill a bag with toiletries and gift items to donate to Family Transition Place,” Ross Smith said.

They assembled a dozen Believe Bags that first Christmas and they were donated to every woman staying at Orangeville’s Family Transition Place (FTP).

The following year, the effort grew.

Instead of gifts for her birthday the following October, she asked friends and family to donate to Believe Bags. They were able to put together 185 bags and they expanded recipients to include Dufferin Child and Family Services (DCAFS).

 “Over the next six years, with the help of a number of business owners, we were able to put out donation baskets for the community to donate,” she said.

 “Well, now we had a real community-spirited campaign. The little engine that grew.”

Over the years, the effort has donated about 2,500 bags to FTP, DCAFS, the Orangeville Food Bank, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Dufferin and District.

“Every kid can take a bag home to their mom,” Ross Smith said. “For some moms, this is the only gift they may receive.”

The worldwide coronavirus pandemic in 2020 that brought quarantines, homeschooling, closed businesses and stymied human contact made the need for Believe Bags even greater.

 “More than ever was the need to let moms know that they make a difference,” she said. “We are also aware there are a number of single dads out there who deserve some recognition, too.”

Through the charitable initiative, 250 mugs inscribed with Believe You Make a Difference have been bought. The Mugs for Moms campaign ran in 2020 and 2021.

The community’s generosity really showed: Donations from family, friends, and strangers in the street who gave her money for the cause. She received e-transfers from $5 to $2,000, she said.

Companies and hockey teams held fundraisers. Workplaces promoted dress-down days to generate money for Believe Bags.

Ross Smith said they raised $20,000 each year of 2020 and 2021.

“And put it right back into our community, creating some economic stimulation with purchasing all gift cards locally when a number of our businesses were struggling,” she said.

This year they are combining the success of previous years with a number of business drop-off stations (see our Facebook page for a list) and or e-transfers to to purchase both products and gift cards. 

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