Gifts of Light is a 100% donation-funded program that aims to improve patient experiences at Toronto’s Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), providing them with basic necessities, small comforts, and access to a variety of resources. So far, the program has helped to empower over 13,000 patients at the facility, with the team behind Gifts of Light working with clinical staff to offer support to those in need. To learn more about the program’s roots, how it impacts patients, and how donors can show their support, we spoke with Program Director Quinn Kirby.
Can you tell us a little about Gifts of Light and what led to its fruition?
Gifts of Light started in 2008, spearheaded by Donna Slaight and a small team of incredibly dedicated volunteers. They recognized that there are people who are living and receiving treatment at CAMH that could really benefit from some basic comfort items and support.
We are 100% donation-funded, which allows us to focus on resources and experiences that would not normally be supported by ministry funding. We understand that sometimes it’s the small things that can make a big impact for those living with mental illness.
What started as a volunteer-driven holiday program has since grown into a year-round program, supporting over 300 people a week.
What types of packages does Gifts of Light offer, and how does someone go about donating one?
The Gifts of Light program offers personalized care packages for patients in need, throughout their treatment journey. It’s incredible to see how simple necessities like access to a haircut, toiletries, or cozy pajamas can have such a lasting impact on patients.
We rely on many different types of support to facilitate this, beginning with in-kind donations from a variety of companies. Many generous corporate partners provide us with products that can be distributed year-round to those in need.
We also rely on monetary contributions to the program. Someone looking to show their support can choose from a broad range of items listed in the Gifts of Light catalog and choose one that speaks to them to benefit a patient at CAMH.
Are all CAMH patients eligible to receive a package? How are they matched with one that will benefit them specifically?
We rely on our CAMH frontline clinical staff to develop an understanding on how we can make a lasting impact on their patients’ treatment and recovery journey. It’s really heartwarming when we see staff members go above and beyond to advocate for their patients and come to Gifts of Light to help turn their wishes and needs into a reality. Every day our team receives and fulfills requests, hand delivering care packages across the hospital.
At CAMH we don't have a gift shop. Unlike what you may see in a general hospital, we don’t have a constant flow of visitors coming to support our patients. Instead, Gifts of Light gets to play that role, and we act as a support system and bridge from the community to our patients, reinforcing the message that “we care for you, we're thinking of you, and we want what's best for you in your recovery." It's a unique way of providing patients with hope and the dignity that they deserve during a really vulnerable, but also a very courageous journey.
What can you tell us about the different bundle packages that are available through the catalog?
The catalog reflects just about every aspect of the Gifts of Life program. It profiles a variety of products and experiences that Gifts of Light offers to support CAMH and our patients. There is truly something that touches on every interest, and options available to suit all budgets.
There are products as simple as an emergency kit, provided through our Emergency Department at 250 College Street. It's just a small bag with a travel size deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo, conditioner, and other essentials.
A personal favorite is our partnership with Toronto’s Furniture Bank. Patients arrive at the facility, where they're able to walk through a warehouse filled with donated furniture, pick out the items that they need to furnish their place of residence, and have it delivered within 24 hours. Transitioning back into the community is such an important part in a patient’s journey, so it’s really special that we’re able to provide them with the resources they need to make their home a safe place that they can be proud of.
How have patients responded to the program so far?
The best part of my job is seeing the response from the patients, and hearing directly from them and their families as to how this program has impacted them.
There are so many stories that I could share — many people have personally thanked our team and told us stories of love and humanity in a time where they otherwise felt incredibly isolated.
Patient feedback is really what keeps this program going. It allows us to remember the impact of the small things, and it inspires us to think bigger. It's through ideas, innovation, feedback, and people's own lived experiences that we're able to grow this program and make it something truly special.
How do you hope to grow Gifts of Light in the future, and how can donors and others support this?
Over the last few years, the Gifts of Light program has undergone significant growth, and we anticipate this will continue to happen.
What started as a grassroots volunteer-driven program has turned into a year-round hospital resource that both CAMH staff and patients can rely on. We will continuously work on transforming the patient experience, and we understand that there will always be more work to be done.
Donors and supporters will always be at the core of this program. We would not exist without those special people. In order to grow and continue to grow, we will rely on them and their generous contributions.
How can donors go about contacting Gifts of Light to be of help?
To find out more about the program, you can visit our website. We are grateful for every donation, contribution and volunteer that touches our program — and I know our patients are too!