One year around Christmas, Jo-Anne Burnett asked her parents what they were doing.
They told her they were donating to the Toronto Star’s Santa Claus Fund, which accepts donations to provide Christmas gifts to underprivileged children in the GTA.
That’s when she learned that her father, who grew up impoverished in Cabbagetown with several siblings, had been a recipient of the program.
She doesn’t know if he received a gift box for multiple years or just one, but she recalls he was “faithful” about his yearly donations to the fund.
Now she and her husband Bill donate to both the Santa Claus Fund and the Fresh Air Fund to honour her late father.
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“I just feel it’s a very positive and something worthwhile we can do for the children in the inner city,” she says.
The Fresh Air Fund was founded by journalist John J. Kelso and adopted by Star publisher Joseph Atkinson in 1901. It sends over 25,000 children to over 100 different day and residential camps every year. Since its founding, the fund has raised millions of dollars and sent over half a million underprivileged and special needs children to summer camp.
Although she’s not sure if her father attended a summer camp, Burnett says camps have played a big role in her family.
When she was 15, she attended Pioneer Camp, a Christian summer camp in Muskoka. She remembers canoeing and learning to be a good swimmer during her two-week stay at the camp. She still remembers the names of two girls she met at the camp who had travelled from Austin, Texas.
“I looked at that as a real positive experience in my life,” she says.
Her husband also attended a summer camp through the Air Cadets program.
The couple sent their kids to summer camp in Muskoka Woods. This year, two of their granddaughters are going to a camp up north for their first overnight summer camp experience, and another is going to volunteer at a ringette camp.
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“It’s kind of gone down the chain,” Burnett says.
It’s a “big privilege” to be able to contribute to a fund that sends children to summer camp, she says.
She and her husband also donate to a summer camp program at their church.
Burnett says camp fees are expensive, and she’d like to see summer camps be more accessible to children whose families can’t afford them.
“I really believe in the camping experience, and the outdoors and enjoying what we have, what we have been blessed with here in Canada,” she says. “If we can have an opportunity to share that, I think we have a responsibility to do that.”
As for her father?
“He would be very pleased that we would carry on (his) legacy.”
HOW TO DONATE
With your donation, the Fresh Air Fund can help send 25,000 disadvantaged and special needs children to camp. The experience gives these children much more than relief from summer heat — it gives these children a break in life and memories to last a lifetime. Our target is $650,000.
Mail to The Toronto Star Fresh Air Fund, One Yonge St., Toronto, Ont. M5E 1E6
BY CREDIT CARD
Visa, MasterCard or AMEX, call 416-869-4847
For instant donations, use our secure form at thestar.com/freshairfund
The Star does not authorize anyone to solicit on its behalf. Tax receipts will be issued.
Sherina Harris is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @sherinaharris
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