TORONTO — In the spirit of giving back to the community, a fundraiser called Jake’s Big Give gave families a chance to embrace a unique holiday adventure.
Some 2,500 people of all ages dropped into Toronto’s former Kromer Radio building on Bathurst Street Nov. 24 and 25, which had been transformed into a kids’ magical land. Upon arrival, the children were greeted by volunteer teenage angels, who escorted them to the Giving Store, which housed thousands of donated toys.
A $25 donation was the ticket price for all children, while adults entered free.
The twist to this fundraiser was that the kids selected their gift, wrapped it, made a personal card and donated it to a charity they chose themselves from among several that benefited from the event. They also received a “Jake’s Buck,” good for one toy for themselves.
“A winning formula aimed to teach children that the true gift is the one you give away,” says Ellen Schwartz, co-founder of Jacob’s Ladder and founder of Project Giveback.
“I am here with my kids to celebrate Jacob,” said guest Jordan Banks. “This fundraiser is different than others, in that it is an incredibly homegrown and grassroots one, focusing on kids and making sure that all kids are taken care of in the holiday season. The possibilities of coming into a room like this, full of toys that you know will go to those less fortunate, leaves a profound mark on these children here today.”
The real angel is 15-year-old Jacob Schwartz, who was diagnosed at four months of age with Canavan disease, an inherited, progressive, neurodegenerative condition. Jacob isn’t able to walk, talk, move, see, breathe well or swallow, but he can hear, and he has a winning smile, with eyes that speak volumes.
Since it was formed in 1998, Jacob’s Ladder Foundation has raised $2.5 million toward genetic and other kinds of research, and educating the general public. Jacob’s Ladder offers free screening to test for seven genetic disorders that occur frequently in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Unfortunately, there is neither treatment nor cure for Canavan disease.
“Funds raised at Jake’s Big Give will go to the Jacob’s Ladder Foundation for the Control of Neurodegenerative Diseases and the Jacob’s Ladder therapeutic pool at the Jewish Community Centre’s Lebovic campus,” Schwartz said.
“Ellen and I are blown away with the community support,” her husband, Jeff Schwartz, co-founder of Jacob’s Ladder, added. “That’s what it’s all about: sharing both the good times and the not-so-good times with our community. So many of us get bent out of shape over the smallest things. Today is a day to remind us to keep perspective.”
Jake’s Big Give was presented by Fabricland and Scotiabank. There were 50 sponsors and hundreds of volunteers each day. Everything was donated. Families enjoyed free food and drink, a tattoo booth, a parents’ lounge with live performances by inspiring kids. Wishing Well raffle tickets were sold, with the chance to win magnificent gift baskets.
Michael Back was the winner of the live auction for a pair of tickets in the eighth row at the 40-yard-line for the 100th Grey Cup.
“Sponsorship alone was already over $100,000 before even one ticket was sold. I predict we will net close to $200,000,” Ellen Schwartz said.
“We want to teach our son how fortunate he is to have a mommy and daddy to buy him presents,” said guest Danielle Conway. “And we want him to understand that not everybody can afford presents and all the comforts of life. By coming out to support Jake’s Big Give, we are supporting Jacob as well as paying it forward. These lessons are invaluable.”
For more information, visit the websites www.jacobsladder.ca and www.projectgiveback.com