Nav Bhatia loves helping Santa Claus.
Two years ago, the prominent Sikh businessman known as the Toronto Raptors Superfan dressed up as Santa and handed out 100 pairs of exclusive basketball shoes that he donated to underprivileged kids in Scarborough. Last year he was the Grand Marshal of the Etobicoke Lakeshore Santa Claus parade.
And this year he is helping out with the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund by donating 500 basketballs to be distributed to needy children at Christmas.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, Christian or other religion. Kids are kids, and they need to be treated fairly. It’s what diversity is all about,” Bhatia says, about his decision to help the fund.
“With COVID-19 there is so much suffering in our community. These kids and their families will really appreciate these Santa Fund gifts this year. We want to be part of it.”
Today marks the kickoff — or the tipoff, as Bhatia might prefer — of the 115th campaign for the Santa Claus Fund, which delivers gift boxes before Christmas Eve to 45,000 children from all backgrounds, newborn to age 12, in Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Ajax and Pickering.
Since 1906, Star readers have donated to the fund to buy the gifts and community volunteers, including community and youth groups, individuals and families, ensure they are delivered on time.
The fund has operated through two world wars, the Great Depression and now the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the campaign goal is to raise $1.2 million.
“We are honoured to have Nav Bhatia offer to help the Santa Claus Fund,” says Jordan Bitove, publisher of the Toronto Star. “He represents what is great about our city and understands first-hand the importance of this initiative.
“We are also honoured to have so many readers who donate generously over the decades to the Santa Fund and so many volunteers, including current and former employees, who generously give their time and effort,” Bitove adds. “The fund is an extremely important initiative for our community, one that has a lasting impact on the lives of so many young people, filling the gap during the holiday period that some children may feel because of situations beyond their control.”
Paul Rivett, chair of Torstar, the Star’s parent company, says that “because of COVID-19, this is one of the most difficult periods in our lifetime and the children in this city and this area are both the most vulnerable and impressionable, particularly during the coming holiday session.
“The Santa Claus Fund is one small way for Torontonians to make a difference for people who need our help, to make life a little better for them and to provide a bit of comfort and joy to a lot of kids,” he says.
Bhatia has spent much of his time over the years working to improve the lives of others, especially children, both here in Canada and around the world.
“Poverty breeds poverty,” he says in explaining why he has been so active. For example, he has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for girls’ washrooms in schools in India. In the early weeks of the pandemic he bought a truck and personally delivered some 15,000 meals to front-line workers in the GTA.
One of his most ambitious initiatives was to launch the Nav Bhatia Superfan Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising money to build basketball courts and provide basketballs for kids in Canada and abroad. His goal is to bring diverse people together through sport — basketball in particular.
He has already donated hundreds of basketballs to schools and youth groups across Ontario — and his donation to the Santa Claus Fund is another example of his generosity and passion for helping kids.
“We can make this city the role model for the world,” Bhatia says. “But we can’t be complacent; we can make this city better.”
That’s also a key purpose of the fund, established in 1906 by the Star’s longtime publisher Joseph Atkinson. He had grown up extremely poor, raised by his widowed mother who had eight children.
One Christmas, the young Atkinson was sitting on the edge of a skating pond watching other children glide across the ice when a woman passing by asked him why he wasn’t joining them. Atkinson told her he had no skates. The kind woman immediately went to a store and bought him a pair. It was an act of generosity he never forgot, one that influenced him for years and prompted him eventually to create the Star Santa Claus Fund.
Today it’s one of the oldest continuing charities in North America. Just as it has since 1906, the Santa Claus Fund continues to provide gifts to children in need across the city, and in recent years across many other parts of the Greater Toronto Area.
This year the Star is working again with sister papers in the area. Locally, the program is known as the Mississauga News Santa Claus Fund, the Brampton Guardian Santa Claus Fund and the Ajax-Pickering News Advertiser Santa Claus Fund. The fund is also generously supported by major corporate partners, including Joe Fresh, Toys “R” Us Canada, Scholastic Canada and Colgate-Palmolive Canada.
The decorated gift boxes may have changed since Atkinson started the fund, but the basic concept remains the same.
Gift boxes — packed based on age and not gender — are for children aged 12 and under. For ages 1 to 12, each age-appropriate box contains a hat, mittens, a hoodie, socks, a book, a small toy and cookies. A toothbrush and toothpaste are included for ages 4 to 12. Infants receive clothing, socks and baby accessories.
For many children, it’s the only gifts they will receive.
Recipient families are carefully assessed by local community service agencies to ensure they are truly in need. There are no restrictions based on religion, race, creed colour, ethnicity or national origin.
Importantly, the Santa Claus Fund relies on thousands of volunteers — people just like you — for it to be successful.
And this year, due to COVID-19, the need for volunteers — families, individuals, sports teams, service groups — to deliver the gifts to recipients’ homes is as great as ever. Most gifts are delivered on Saturdays and Sundays from late November until mid-December.
If you are able to help for a day or just a few hours, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will contact all willing elves.
Remember the Santa Claus Fund is a registered children’s charity. Every dollar — indeed, every penny — you donate goes toward filling gift boxes for children. The Star pays all the administrative and labour costs associated with the fund. This is a major difference from some charities that spend up to 30 per cent or more of the donations they receive to cover similar costs.
Please donate. You will be creating fabulous memories that will last a lifetime.
If you have been touched by the Santa Claus Fund or have a story to tell, please email email@example.com
GOAL: $1.2 million
How to donate:
- Online: Use our secure form at:
- By credit card: Visa, MasterCard or AMEX
- By cheque: Mail to: The Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund, One Yonge St., Toronto, ON, M5E 1E6
The Star does not authorize anyone to solicit on its behalf. Tax receipts will be issued.