Providing Christmas for Those Affected by Poverty

Tammy on her way to volunteer at The Salvation Army

Poverty is often hidden in Canada, but for Tammy Etto, it’s been in plain sight for years, year-round, and she’s not alone.

The 38-year-old single mother of four has lived below the poverty line on less than $20,000 a year. Her reality: Hunger pains and bare cupboards. Food banks, bills and stress. “I’ve struggled to pay the rent, find food to eat, pay hydro – I felt like a failure as a mother,” says Etto. “Some days I didn’t know where the food would come from. There were days I went hungry so my kids didn’t.”

“There were days I went hungry so my kids didn’t.”

Then she turned to The Salvation Army. When the cupboards were bare, when she had lost hope, when there were no presents under the Christmas tree for her young children, Etto found help and strength, and salvation from her desperate struggles. “If it wasn’t for the Salvation Army, we would have all have gone hungry, and for Christmas my children would have had nothing.”

Christmas is often a very sad season for those impacted by poverty. The holiday season is widely portrayed as an idyllic time, but behind closed doors and not always easy to see, there is little Christmas magic for Canadian families living in poverty, let alone holiday gifts and food.

“The Salvation Army has been a safe haven for my children and me – without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

“The Salvation Army has been a safe haven for my children and me – without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” Etto credits The Salvation Army for giving her stability and helping her get her life back on track, and, most memorable, providing Christmas cheer and food hampers and toys when the tree was bare.

Up until two months ago, Etto and her two youngest children, ages 13 and 7, lived on $1,500 a month, with rent eating up half of her monthly social assistance, and relying regularly on The Salvation Army for food. Now she is employed full-time at MSU in Mississauga, and thanks to the support of The Salvation Army, she is working on getting her social work diploma from Seneca College so she can help others like she was helped.

“There have been many days of tears but now only good days!” In gratitude, she helps with the National Christmas Kettle fundraising campaign which kicked off on November 19, and she continues to volunteer weekly for an after-school program where she prepares nutritional food for 20-30 kids at The Salvation Army’s Lakeshore Community Church location. “I make really good food because for some of the kids, this may be their only dinner – who knows what food they’re going home to.”

Etto is just one of the countless families The Salvation Army helps each year, and not just over the holiday season but year round, because poverty is an everyday painful struggle for so many. Last year The Salvation Army helped over 1.7 million people in 400 communities across Canada. They served 3.2 million free meals, provided 7,300 warm, emergency beds, and assisted 269,000 with Christmas food hampers and toys.

“We live in one of the richest countries in the world, but one in seven Canadians is impacted by poverty.”

“We live in one of the richest countries in the world, but one in seven Canadians is impacted by poverty,” says John McAlister, National Director of Communications for The Salvation Army. “This poverty is often hidden, with low-income households struggling to pay rent, buy adequate food and cover additional costs such as utility bills, medical expenses and other basic needs.”

Many people are working several low-paying jobs but still living under the poverty line, says McAlister. According to Stats Canada, at least 4.8 million Canadians live below the poverty line.

To provide for those in need, The Salvation Army relies on its National Christmas Kettle Campaign now in its 128th year – it’s their largest public fundraiser of the year with more than 2,000 Christmas kettles at locations across Canada. “With a national $21-million goal, we rely on this fundraising campaign to feed, clothe, shelter and empower those in need in local communities,” says McAlister.

This year, a Salvation Army mobile site, enables donors to give through their mobile devices or computers. A QR code will be featured at physical kettle locations, making it easier for people to access the mobile-giving option. Users of can also host their own online kettle and encourage their friends, family, neighbours and co-workers to donate to The Salvation Army.

By Joanne Richard