Co-operative Education and Career Action annual gift-giving programStaff from Co-operative Education and Career Action organize gifts that will be donated to families in Waterloo Region.

The University of Waterloo will close for the holidays from December 22, 2012 to January 2, 2013, as students, faculty and staff take a well-deserved break following a fall term filled with new buildings, breakthroughs and discovery.

From the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre to the new Stratford campus, the events of this term will have broad global impact for years to come.

In this special season, when so many celebrate with family and friends, it’s important to remember that the smallest impacts have the power to transform lives.

This year, staff, faculty and students from 16 University of Waterloo departments, along with many retirees and family members, will help improve the lives of 200 children from 95 families, one child at a time. It’s a campus tradition that has been growing for 25 years.

Janet Metz, a student advisor with Co-operative Education and Career Action, helped launch the annual gift-giving program at University of Waterloo more than two decades ago. Rather than spend money on an office party, her department decided to buy Christmas gifts for a family who might otherwise go without.

The first year, the team supported a single family. But as their contributions grew and word spread across campus, the number of families receiving gifts grew, too.

“I don’t ask anyone (to contribute),” Metz says, from a Tatham Centre conference room full of gift bags and colourfully wrapped boxes. “People just call me and say ‘we heard about this, can we do it?’ ”

Metz sends out an email to past participants in October, then manages a massive data base, matching donations with families identified by workers with the Waterloo Region Home Daycare program. The families receiving gifts are working or upgrading their skills, and don’t qualify for other assistance.

“Two years ago, one worker said, ‘You don’t know what this means — the families on our list weren’t having Christmas,’” Metz says.