Top 10 charities to donate to this holiday season

The holiday season can bring out the best in all of us — but there is always more people can do. Sure, you can give your friend another pair of socks or a book they probably won’t read. But, this year why not make a real difference in someone else’s life?

Women’s Post spoke with Greg Thomson, director of research for Charity Intelligence, an organization that analyzes charitable investments and provides donors with information about their return. This essentially means they do the work for you — they review each charity and find out which one makes the most positive change for their clients. “There are over 86,000 registered charities in Canada. Some of them are doing an excellent job at helping people, helping society, and changing lives.  However, some charities are not,” Thomson says. “Some charities provide programs that are costly and accomplish very little in terms of making change occur in the lives of the people they work with. If donors do not want to have their donations wasted, they should do a little research to understand just how the charities they are working with are changing lives.”

Thomson also wanted to remind holiday shoppers that gift giving is a very personal experience. If you donate in someone else’s name, make sure it is a charity or social organization that does work they care about.

“It can certainly be a good thing to give a small gift in the name of a child and provide some background information to the child to get them to think about charity. But if you’re giving to an adult, I would recommend a CanadaHelps gift card so that the person can choose their own charity and make it more personal,” he said.

If you are looking for some options, here are the top 10 charities in Canada, according to Charity Intelligence, to give to this holiday season.

Aunt Leah’s Place: This BC-based organizations helps children in foster care and mother’s at risk of losing custody. Over 700 young people in British Columbia “age out” of the foster care system when they turn 19. These people don’t get any social or financial support from the government and often are forced to live on the street. Aunt Leah’s offers support housing as well as programs for mothers and people who have been left behind by the foster care system.

Calgary Urban Project Society: This charity helps people overcome poverty through a variety of education, health, and housing services. The educational services are especially important for children, who enter the program about 1.5 grade levels behind their peers.

Doctors without Borders: This charity is probably the most well known disaster response organization specializing in medical care It is a “first in” and “first out” response team that provides medical assistance to those injured in war or natural disasters.

Eva’s Initiative: Eva’s provides shelter and programs for at-risk youth. They have three shelters that can each host 123 young people a night. They also host training and education programs that help youth complete high school credits and gain access to post-secondary institutions. They also offer mental health services.

Food for Life: This organization, based out of Burlington, is distributing fresh and nutritional foods to to local agencies. Staff collect extra perishable goods from grocery stores and food agencies to donate to those in need. Food for Life helps over 4,000 people in Toronto, most of whom live on $4 a day.

Fresh Start Recovery Program: This agency helps treat men with alcohol and drug addictions. Fresh Start offers temporary housing during the 12-week abstinence-based program as well as counselling and financial support.

Indspire: Indspire helps Indigenous students across Canada complete their post-secondary education by providing financial support and education mentorship programs. Only 10 per cent of Indigenous students complete university degrees. Indspire is hoping to change that.

Jump Math: This organization runs math programs for children and elementary school students (up until grade 8) with the goal of encouraging more young people to love science and math. It also provides coaching and professional development programs for teachers and educators.

Moisson Montreal: Moisson Montreal is the largest food bank in Canada. It collects food donations and distributes it to local charities throughout the city. It also runs a food recovery program in which excess food supplies is collected from supermarkets.

At the end of the day, remember that giving is not restricted to the holiday season. Often charities experience a lull in donations in the New Year, making it difficult to maintain service quality year-round. If you are able, instead of making a one-time donation, make a smaller, but monthly donation.

Giant red ball in Calgary a giant red blimp

Calgary is joining Canada’s 150th celebrations by welcoming a gigantic red ball into the city.

The Red Ball Project is a travelling art installation created by Kurt Perschke that has traveled to 25 cities across the world. The big red ball was spotted on Monday, June 26 on the Peace Bridge, which is a pedestrian and cycling bridge in Calgary. The gigantic red ball was shoved into the bridge and prevented cyclists and pedestrians from passing through, forcing people to contend with the enormous red play toy.

The big red ball has been rolling into different cities around the world for 15 years. The artist created the over-sized ball sculpture so that people could interact with an object that reminded them of their childhood. It is supposed to bring out joy and artistic interaction in key places around the city, and will make its final appearance at Olympic Plaza on July 1.

The giant red ball was brought to Calgary through the city’s public art program and investment from Canadian Heritage. The city has a history of implementing art projects that have zero value or impact (with large price tags), and the red ball seems to be bouncing in that general direction. The blue ring fiasco of 2013, for example, made Calgary the laughing stock of the country when the gigantic-blue-circle-turned-into-streetlights was debuted as the city’s newest piece of art. To put it plainly, the piece of art was widely claimed to lack any sort of artistic interest and caused a panicked city council to revamp Calgary’s art program — or so people thought.

The giant red ball is another example of moving art that is just a little bit goofy and is more of a nuisance than anything. Calgary needs to learn to invest in worthy pieces of art that really celebrate the 150th anniversary of this great nation as more than a playful squishy ball. There is a rich aboriginal history in the city that could be a worthy example of art — or really just choose anything that won’t cause cyclists to crash or pedestrians to turn away in fear of what appears to be a gigantic pimple on the Peace Bridge.

Another artistic win for Calgary ladies and gentlemen, but at least it isn’t worse than Toronto’s imitation rubber duck, another hilarious example of how this country is choosing to celebrate 150 years.

Would you take your picture with a giant red rubber ball? Let us know in the comments below!

Calgary Portable greenhouses may be future for local food

What if you could grow food year-round instead of being limited to spring and summer planting seasons?

Boks Farms Ltd., based out of Calgary, may have a solution to the limited growing seasons in Canada. By turning train shipping containers into portable greenhouses, the company is revolutionizing the way people think about food. The company is taking urban farming to a new level by making indoor greenhouses that can be run year-round.

Portable greenhouse in the shipping container. Photo provided by Boks Farms.
Portable greenhouse in the shipping container. Photo provided by Boks Farms.

Owner Mark Van Engelen began Boks Farms after studying what other companies were doing worldwide in regards to indoor urban farming. He came up with a building strategy to fit the cold Canadian climate. “A few years ago, I decided I needed to do something to make the world a better place. One of my interests is food and another one is energy and biodiversity. This is my contribution to the food system, to do something local,” Van Engelen says. “Urban farming has a two or three month growing season and the rest is canned. We want to help Calgary and Canada grow as well and eventually free food for people in need.”

So how exactly does a greenhouse made out of a shipping container work?

According to Head of Operations, Ben Pearson, it is a step-by-step process. “After taking a shipping container, we retrofit it with materials and insulate it so that it doesn’t have any moisture to effectively create a four-season container,” Pearson says. “For ventilation, we have one intake at the front and one outtake at the back so that air is constantly in circulation and moving.” The units are also outfitted with an air conditioner and heater to control the temperature. The containers use LED lights, but will move to solar panelling in the fall, explained Pearson. This will make the container 100 per cent portable and off-the-grid.

Boks Farms is providing food grown in the greenhouse containers to local restaurants, including Calgary favourites Mercato, Wildrose Brewery, and the Coup. The company is also launching in Edmonton next summer. Van Engelen offers homemade greens, mushrooms and herbs to these restaurants and hopes to expand the business to more remote northern communities as well. “What I envision in the future is to replicate this model up north. With all the materials, we would be helping people have access to fresh food year-round,” Van Engelen says. “We would provide a form of consulting and help build the local systems.”

Van Engelen hopes the company will become a local systems food provider as well as a greenhouse educator. Originally in the environmental consulting business, the entrepreneur also founded an educational company called Earth Educators that helps organizations measure their environmental impact and develop strategies to be more sustainable. He hopes to fuse the teaching aspect of this non-profit to Boks Farms, and help remote communities learn how to sustain local indoor farms in the portable greenhouses year-round.


Herbs grown by Boks Farms. Photo provided by Boks Farms.
Herbs grown by Boks Farms. Photo provided by Boks Farms.

The shipping containers used to make the greenhouses are also sustainable and promote the recycled use of environmental materials. By re-using old shipping containers and refurbishing them, it uses a product that would otherwise sit unused in a train shipping yard for decades.Van Engelen hopes to have the shipping containers completely off the grid soon, and only needs to get solar energy installed in the containers for that to happen. “From an energy perspective, getting off the grid is important,” Van Engelen says. “We are using LEDs where it makes sense. My key thing now is to use solar. It doesn’t use that much, and soon we should be able to be 100 per cent renewable.”

It is commendable to see such an environmentally-progressive initiative being launched in Calgary, a city often known for embracing fossil fuels instead of crunchy granola. By providing an opportunity for local indoor urban farming, it gives Calgarians an opportunity to enjoy local produce year-round and support the sustainable farming of food that could help thousands. It will be enjoyable to see where the company goes next, and I look forward to trying fresh herbs grown year-round.

Everyone loves chicken wings

By Marcia Barhydt

How could there be a football game on TV without chicken wings? Or a poker night for the guys? Or any impromptu party for either guys or girls?

This year, however, this culinary treat was severely threatened for the Super Bowl, possibly the ultimate wing event of the year.

According to WSB-TV, “Two storage workers in Georgia are accused of stealing $65,000 worth of frozen chicken wings amid a high nationwide demand for the delicious Super Bowl snack. Dewayne Patterson, 35, and Renaldo Jackson, 26, allegedly used a rental truck on Jan. 12 to steal 10 warehouse pallets of frozen wings from Nordic Cold Storage.”

Ten pallets? I have no idea how many wings a pallet holds, but 10 pallets certainly seems to be a plethora of wings to me.

Don’t you have to wonder just how these two stored those 10 pallets to keep them frozen and in top black market condition? I think this may have been more wings than would fit into my little kitchen freezer. Did they borrow freezers from their pals? Maybe they rented freezers the way you can rent tables and chairs for a banquet. I just think that 10 pallets of wings would be a hefty amount to secretly store and I’m not sure that DeWayne and Renaldo would have been up to the task.

And there’s another question here. Wings come, of course, coated with various sauces: zesty, hot, super-hot, blow-your-head-off hot. Were the stolen wings pre-coated in their pallets of storage boxes? That just seems unlikely to me. So did these two bright bulb thieves also steal the sauces? How did they decide which strength of sauce would be the most popular for their…clients? Do purchasers of stolen wings even have a preference or are they just delighted to have a huge stash of these chicken delights?

How much would you pay for a box of heisted wings? Or a pallet of them, for that matter? Would you buy wings out of the trunk of someone’s car parked at the side of the road advertising “Wings – Cheap”?

Maybe I need to stop laughing at this ridiculous heist, because the brazen theft took place on January 12 and the date of the news article is January 28, so there was some wiggle time there for the sticky-fingered thieves to dispose of their wings in the most profitable manner before this year’s Super Bowl Sunday.

These two innovative thieves did the nasty deed in broad daylight with little concern of being caught – so caught they were. They were later released on $2,950 bond.

The wings, however, were never found. Pass the napkins please.


Sunshine and real estate

It’s common knowledge by now that the weather has a tangible effect on retail sales. December sales suffer if a snowfall doesn’t happen to get consumers into the “holiday spirit,” and sunny days can mean day-long window shopping excursions that turn into impulse purchases and the obligatory dinner and drinks that follow. The real estate market is no different.

Even with major investments like real estate, consumer tendencies seem to move with the mercury, almost independent of the economic climate. In Toronto, January is traditionally the slowest month for home sales, no doubt a combination of lower cash flow after the holiday season and the difficulty of showing houses effectively. Buyers are less motivated to venture out through the snow and slush to view multiple properties, and sellers can find it difficult to showcase the true beauty of their properties through the ice and snow.

And then there’s spring and summer, “high season” for those in the real estate game and prime time for sellers who want to get top dollar for their properties by employing agents who know how to capitalize on the landscaping and vibrancy of their biggest season.

The numbers are already starting to show the rise in national home sales.  According to statistics released just this month by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), national home sales rose 0.6% from March to April, with home sales improving in more than half of all local markets from March to April. This trend was led by gains in the GTA, Winnipeg, Calgary and Victoria, and with the national average sale price rising 1.3% on a year-over-year basis in April, the Canadian housing market is firmly lodged in balanced territory, which is great news for buyers and sellers alike.

Even with the new mortgage rules that took effect in 2012, the market has remained remarkably steady, and the upward trend for this warmer season is still a palpable reality for all those caught up in the real estate game.

Hours of sunshine always helps me shake off the lethargy and “blah-ness” of the winter months and gets me even more excited and geared up for my work, and I can always see the excitement in motivation in my clients as well. I feed off of it, I love it. And it’s that energy that can translate into some incredible transactions this season.

Denim shorts and wedge sandals, sunshine and real estate: my four favourite summer things. I’m looking forward to having a blast. Won’t you join me?

Eight best of the “Hipster Harper” meme

Stephen Harper a hipster? Hardly these days, but a photo of Harper in his youth clad in a plaid shirt with shaggy hair has inspired some on the internet to dub him a proto-hipster.

The memes centre around just what exactly a cooler-than-thou young Harper’s motivations would be for his less popular actions as Prime Minister.

Check out our favourite eight examples of the meme from around the web.


INVESTMENT BUG: The pros and cons of purchasing an investment property

We’re nearing the end of the second quarter now, and the real estate market is holding steady! And with more and more people looking at ways to invest their money and get the most for their return, I’ve had a few calls from clients considering investing their money in investment properties. I know from personal experience that the return on this type of investment can be great, and is definitely a great way to diversify your investment portfolio with an investment that will likely increase over time and pay for itself in monthly rental income, but I also know firsthand that the process isn’t as glamorous as it may come across on all our favourite real estate reality TV shows.

Firstly, let me make the difference between flipping properties, which has been popularized in the last few years, and owning an investment property. “Flipping” a property refers to the common practice of purchasing a “fixer-upper” property below market value with the intention of fixing it up to raise the value and re-selling in a relatively short period of time for a profit.

Owning an investment property that you plan to hold on to long term can be anything from purchasing a condo, duplex, triplex, building, etc. with the intention of renting out the unit or units on an ongoing basis.

If you’re looking at purchasing an investment property for the first time, it may be worth noting that most lenders won’t approve financing for properties of more than four units. So purchasing a triplex to rent out may be a good start, but maybe save the three-story low rise until you’re a little more experienced. Most lenders will require a minimum of 20% down, and if you’re looking to avoid mortgage insurance premiums, it might be worth it to put down more. Throw in land transfer taxes and closing costs, and you’ll see why it becomes super important to know your numbers and be sure of what your upfront expenses are going to be.

When it comes to tenants, I have one golden rule for all of my clients: you need the RIGHT tenant, not a tenant RIGHT NOW. In Ontario, the laws are usually on the side of the tenant, so do your background and pay the $29.99 for a credit check to cover your bases. If you don’t have a thick skin, develop one, quick! Complaints will come and you’ll need to know your tenants’ rights and your rights as well.

Be prepared for maintenance costs and repairs. Be prepared to put in work. Get yourself an agent who has knowledge of the type of investment property you’re looking to get into and who knows the area enough to work with you through area rental rates and capitalization rates. If you arm yourself with the right team and proper guidance, it could be the best financial decision you ever make.


Follow Chellie on Twitter at @ChellieMejia and Women’s Post at @WomensPost

Monday blues? Here’s a baby skunk to cheer you up

Mondays can be rough, but nothing is cheerier than seeing a baby pet skunk desperate for some love from his adopted mom.

The little guy, Jasper, can’t get enough of him mom’s toes as he whines to be picked up.

Jasper even has his own Facebook page, written in the first person of course, where he details his adventures as a house-skunk. Check out more videos of Jasper on S Decker‘s YouTube channel.


Follow Women’s Post on Twitter for all the latest news in adorable animals. @WomensPost


Last weekend Boyfriend and I went out for brunch because that’s what Toronto couples do on Sundays. I made a joke about neither of us knowing our actual anniversary, which I thought was funny until he told me that he actually did know when it was. I assumed that he was teasing but then he passed me his phone which has a reminder on September 20th that it is our anniversary.

It’s really the little things that matter and the fact that he not only remembered our first date but bothered to include it in his calendar blew me away.

The last anniversary I can remember was with the Big Ex and by that point he was already cheating – when I texted to say “happy anniversary” I didn’t even receive a response. We broke up a couple weeks later. So to find out that Boyfriend is already assuming that we’ll make it through this anniversary and the next makes me smile in that dorky I’m-so-in-love kind of way.

When you’re happy you don’t need to rush; if things are going to work out then you can take your time getting there and enjoy all the little milestones. We have an anniversary coming up in September and there’s a lot to enjoy between now and then: summer cottages, BBQs with friends, concerts, beach days and road trips.

In Toronto couples have a tendency to move too quickly. They move in together before they’re ready to because rent is high, they let their relationships move at the pace of the city and lose each other in the rush. I just want to keep getting to know Boyfriend, keep falling in love and keep finding out new things about each other.

But as much as I love taking things somewhat slowly, because there’s no need to rush when you know things are right, I also love that he knows when our anniversary is. It makes me blush, it makes me feel like a total girl for enjoying it and it makes me smile.

I’ve said this before (and I’m probably going to keep saying it) but I’ve never had a relationship that wasn’t plagued with one problem or another. I’ve never had a boy care enough about me to put me in a calendar. I’ve always been the one who cares the most in a relationship and it’s amazing to feel like a real partner rather than a girl with a crush begging for attention from someone you’re supposed to be dating.

I didn’t remember our anniversary but I do remember our first kiss, I remember the first time he held my hand, I remember the first time he made me dinner, I remember that when I was waiting for a job offer he was the one who told me a million times that I didn’t need to worry. It’s the moments that I remember because it’s the moments that make us work. I can’t wait to see what happens next, and because it’s finally summer I kind of hope it involves a patio or a beach.


HAPPY FRIDAY: Here is a blog dedicated to photos of sloths

As you may have guessed from our previous articles, we here at WP had a love-on for sloths. Luckily we aren’t the only ones. That Sloth Blog is a Tumblr dedicated to bringing you photos of sloths doing sloth things and being slothdorable and slothcool. They sum it up pretty well by saying: “Us, we’re sloth people.” Yup.

Yes, there is a sloth-on-branch cursor on this website.

You are currently counting down the hours until you can use some of these relaxing sloth moves on your couch.

Here are some of our favourites from the blog.

Follow Travis on Twitter: @TravMyers