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It’s a time to remember, a season to give

By Don Fennell

Published 10:24 PST, Wed November 13, 2019

Last Updated: 10:41 PST, Thu November 14, 2019

When Wall Street came tumbling down in 1929, the largest stock market crash in American history set the stage for a decade history knows as the Great Depression.

Amidst widespread unemployment and poverty, Ethel Tibbits—an early editor and publisher at the now-defunct Richmond Review—started the Richmond Christmas Fund.

Today under the auspices of Richmond Cares, Richmond Gives, the Richmond Christmas Fund remains committed to Tibbits’ vision of trying to ensure all residents enjoy a Merry Christmas.

Unfortunately, the reality is many locals don’t have the financial means to prepare a festive meal, let alone purchase gifts. They work hard, but still struggle just to make ends meet. Celebrating Christmas is an additional expense they simply can’t afford.

It’s a situation Wayne Duzita finds challenging and has passionately stepped forward to help resolve.

“These are not the homeless, but people living on minimum wage or in low-wage jobs challenged by the cost of living,” explains Duzita, co-chair with Michael Chiu and Rob Howard of the Richmond Christmas Fund.

“They come to us humbly, some lining up at 4 in the morning to register for food vouchers, gift certificates and select toys given to us by the community.”

Adding to their challenges, many are single parents further burdened by childcare expenses and rent increases. The dilemma is a vicious and unforgiving one.

Not that Duzita had it particularly easy growing up either.

“I grew up in the late fifties and early sixties and like most of us at that time on the financial margin but not knowing it,” he says. “In those days there was no social media, and no one talked about it either. There were days my parents owned a home and other times we lived in a basement suite. It just seemed normal. Rent was reasonable and the cost of a home was 2.5 times median income. Today, it’s 10 to 12 times median income and rental costs are challenging.

“Today,” continues Duzita, “many are still living from paycheque to paycheque but the basic cost of necessities and the additional expense during the holidays creates a juggling act—what do you give up to make ends meet. This is where the Richmond Christmas Fund steps in, we bridge the gap to help those who ask for assistance.” 

Duzita has been volunteering since he was a teenager. And having experienced some of the challenges during his time—including going through four job changes in the 1980s, he embraces the opportunity to give back.

“I think most people have a passion for something in the community, through something they’ve experienced in life, he says. “I think that’s one of the reasons we’re here, to support one another navigate these challenges we call the journey of life.”

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