The festive season brings a number of popular events and traditions to the Limestone City throughout December, and the holiday spirit inspires many people to help those who are less fortunate. One cause that gets a lot of attention throughout this season is the giving of gifts to children in need, many of whom might otherwise go without at Christmas. Toy drives and gift-giving campaigns are an opportunity to pair people who want to give back with people who could use a little extra. And with sky-high inflation rates creating a cost-of-living crisis for many people, the needs in our community may never have been greater.
A desire to give to those in need is what inspired Adam Ellis to launch his new initiative, Be Claus. Its purpose is to give new handcrafted toys and gifts, prepared by local skilled makers and artisans, to children in need.
“Instead of providing store-bought gifts, I wanted to organize the maker community… and provide kids with handmade gifts that are custom to their interests,” Ellis said.
Ellis explained that the idea for Be Claus first came to him when he started working on a handmade gift for a family member.
“I was planning a homemade gift for my niece, and… I started thinking this would be a great thing to do for a bunch of kids. I knew other makers would love to do this,” he said.
“It’s just a great, exciting, sort of exhilarating feeling when you’ve got this great idea you’re going to share with somebody else, especially when you’re giving them a gift you hand made. It’s really nice to give a good gift… Making it yourself is just a bit more ego-fulfilling,” he continued with a laugh.
With an idea in mind, Ellis started Be Claus as a grassroots non-profit initiative for the 2023 holiday season. He has been able to enrol close to a dozen Kingston-area children in the program, each of whom will receive a handmade gift in time for Christmas. The gifts will be tailored to the interests of each individual child — interests which, Ellis noted, have included popular children’s television shows like Bluey and Peppa Pig.
Ellis said, “It’s just this unique thing only they’re going to have and is really special for them. Thought and effort went into making sure that this child has a good Christmas.”
One of the goals of the program, he emphasized, is to ensure every child feels appreciated and has something special to open during the holidays — and that each child knows there are people out there in the community “[who] are looking out for them, thinking about them, and want to know what interests them so they can get them something special.”
Ellis also said he hopes the program will benefit children suffering from self-esteem issues and other challenges. “They [may] feel like the world is turning [its back] on them… So the deep-rooted goal is to make sure that these kids can [realize], ‘Even though I don’t know who it was, there was somebody looking out for me.’”
Although the purpose is to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds, Ellis stressed that there is no intention to judge parents or families in low-income households or to imply any lack of parental love or support. “I’m just aware of the reality that those situations can have kind of a higher risk… That’s what I want to conquer: the feeling of not being cared about or looked after,” he said.
While Ellis has planned a modest first-year rollout of the program, he intends to expand Be Claus in future years.“I think this is the sort of thing that can be built upon and catch on,” he said. “As you get more makers involved… you’d be able to help a whole bunch of kids. [If] you get 50 people that can make something, and they’re dedicated to making two or three gifts [each], you’re helping 100 to 150 kids.”
He added, “If it continues to grow, I’ve fantasized about this thing becoming humongous… hundreds of thousands of presents and really helping out a lot of kids.”
As with any charitable cause that’s starting out, there have been growing pains for Be Claus in 2023. Ellis is still working on connecting with local organizations that work with those who might benefit from his initiative; he acknowledged that these organizations have to be cautious about who they share information with. He is also still going through the process of making it an official registered charity. “The idea came to me kind of late in the year,” he said, “so I didn’t have a ton of time to plan everything out… We’re still technically not a charity yet, we’re a not-for-profit… So next year everything will be settled down and we won’t have to worry about any of that kind of stuff.”
Ellis continued, “Currently it’s small. But, we’ve got some exciting ideas as to how to build it and keep it fun and exciting and community engaging, so people feel like they’re really a part of it.”
For 2023, Ellis also struggled to find ways to promote Be Claus and get children enrolled in the program. “Unfortunately, we currently only have 10 [children for this year], but we are hoping to get a few more. My goal for this year was 12, and it looks like we’re going to have enough gifts for 25,” he noted.
Despite the organization’s ‘Christmasy’ name, Ellis said he hopes Be Claus will be able to benefit a wider range of children in the future, regardless of their religious or cultural backgrounds. “Kingston is becoming so diverse in its cultures, [so] it’s not just about Christmas; it’s Diwali, Hanukkah… [and] others.”
Ellis also hopes in the years ahead to increase the number of local makers who take part in the program. For 2023, the founder was able to find a handful of artisans and designers to build the toys for the children; he hopes that number will increase in future years, “I’m hoping as I keep… getting the exposure out there, I’ll be really setting myself up well for next year,” he said.
Aside from the actual gift-giving element of the organization, Ellis also hopes to one day create a Be Claus workspace, where children can learn woodworking and other skills related to gift-making from local volunteer makers. “The big goal we have with our donation money is… to create a ‘maker space’ where [kids] can come and learn,” he said. “All people, in my opinion, need to recognize that they have a gift on this earth… In this case, it’s all about making. [Kids can say], ‘Look at what I made. I had this idea in my head, and here it is in real life. I made it.’ And then, if they want to take home whatever they create at the end, great — but also, if they want to donate it back to the charity, we can take that gift and match it with a kid.”
Members of the public who are interested in supporting Be Claus, including local designers and artisans who would like to sign up as makers for future years can Ellis directly at [email protected].