Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Jack Knox: Asking for your help, even when it's uncomfortable

The Times Colonist Christmas Fund is a good cause, but Jack Knox still feels like that long-vanished friend who only reappears when he wants to borrow your truck.
Donate to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund at

A stranger stopped me on the street the other day.

“It’s nice to see your column in the paper again,” he said, “even if all you’re doing is asking me for money.”

Yes, well, he had me there. After an absence of several months, I wandered back into these pages a few weeks ago to bang the drum for the Times Colonist Christmas Fund. It’s a good cause, but I still feel like that long-vanished friend who only reappears when he wants to borrow your truck. “Sure,” you reply, your smile fading a little as you drop the keys into his outstretched hand.

There are plenty of outstretched hands at this time of year, Christmas charities reaching for our wallets. Bellringers on the sidewalk, food drives, pleading letters in your mailbox, donation boxes loitering mutely by the liquor store till. Sometimes we can ignore the hands by finding something utterly fascinating in the screens of our phones instead, just like when we rush past panhandlers, but it’s more awkward when the cashier at the checkout asks: “Would you like to add $2 for the Abandoned Elf Appeal?”

That’s when your inside voice says, “No, what I’d like to do is to buy a pound of butter without taking out a bank loan,” but then the cashier looks you in the eye — do you detect judgment there? — so you have to fake a coughing fit (“Damn COVID!”) to distract her. This, in turn, causes you to resent the store for putting you in such an uncomfortable position.

Businesses that prod their customers to make charitable donations know they risk alienation. The Times Colonist realizes there’s a point where readers might tire of being fed a diet of stories urging them to give to the Christmas Fund.

At least those readers can take comfort in knowing that the Times Colonist doesn’t keep a dime of the donations that flow in. On the contrary, the newspaper absorbs most of the cost of running the Christmas Fund, leaving more money for the cause itself. Of the $1.2 million raised last year ($895,000 donated during the campaign, plus other money that came in throughout the year through bequests and so forth), 98 per cent went to people in need on Vancouver Island through the charities that serve them. Almost all of the remaining two per cent — or $24,000 — was eaten up by credit-card and online transaction fees.

This raises an obvious question: If the TC’s annual Christmas fundraiser A) risks contributing to donor fatigue, and B) sucks resources out of the newspaper, why do it?

Because it’s needed, that’s why. Because while few of us like parting with our money, most of us like helping our neighbours when they could use a hand.

This past week, I delivered grants to half a dozen of the more than 50 local non-profits benefitting from Christmas Fund money this year. I got to play Santa Claus with a cheque to support Ukrainian refugees living in Kiwanis Village, a cheque for Threshold Housing and the at-risk young people it serves, and a cheque for the food bank at St. John the Divine Anglican church in downtown Victoria. At Soap For Hope Canada in Vic West, volunteers put together hygiene kits for cash-strapped seniors. To accept the 1Up Victoria Single Parent Resource Centre’s cheque, executive director Melissa Masse had to tiptoe through the emergency hampers it paid for.

Hampers, 750 of them, were also being assembled at the Goldstream Food Bank — banana boxes crammed with pasta, canned tuna, stovetop stuffing, baked beans, cranberry sauce…. Recipients also got dairy and produce, plus gift cards to cover the cost of a turkey and presents for the kids. A stash of toys, tuques and socks was set aside for those too late for the hamper list.

The food bank was alive with a hum of positive energy as 30 volunteers — including a bunch sorting through the donations from Royal Bay Secondary’s food drive — went about their work. Only in places where people don’t get paid do you see them labour that hard, fired up by the goodness of what they’re doing.

It would be awesome if donors to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund — or to any of the help-your-neighbours efforts under way at this time of year — got buoyed in the same way. I wish those donors could have gone with me to deliver their money, to see how much good it does beyond those outstretched hands.


You can donate by going to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund web page,

That page is linked to CanadaHelps, which is open 24 hours a day and provides an immediate tax receipt.

Or mail a cheque to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, 201-655 Tyee Road, Victoria, B.C. V9A 6X5.

You can also use your credit card by phoning 250-995-4438 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.