By Kristin Archer

It all started with a tweet. In 2011, Jay Perry wanted to give back to the community by sponsoring a local family during the holiday season. Learning that this would cost $250 through a local organization, he thought it would be even more meaningful if it came from a group of friends. “I threw out a quick tweet, see who’s interested, and it spiralled from there,” Jay recalls.

“That year the goal was $250, and we ended up raising $1400 and sponsoring two families,” Jay says. “At the time, it was like, ‘That’s amazing!’ but then I had no idea where it would grow.”

Jay grew up in Stoney Creek and works as a full-time photographer. In 2010, Jay went on a mission trip to Haiti and discovered a passion for serving others. He wanted to bring that community spirit back to Hamilton in his own way by rallying his friends together to help local families.

Jay Perry with Kettiene-Love in Haiti. Photo courtesy of Jay Perry.

I remember responding to that single tweet which then snowballed into Jay launching Friends With Hearts, an annual tradition to bring the magic of the holidays to local families who may not otherwise be able to provide gifts for their children on Christmas morning.

Fast forward to 2017: Friends With Hearts enters its 7th season, has expanded way beyond Jay’s immediate circle of friends, including chapters in four more cites (Niagara, ON; Cornwall, ON; Vancouver, BC and New York, NY), and last year they raised over $13,000 locally.

“I had the idea and I started it, but without the people involved, it would be nothing. I owe so much gratitude to those supporters who helped grow this to where it is today.”

Friends With Hearts. Photos courtesy of Jay Perry. Not pictured: 2011 when Jay’s mom wrapped all the gifts!

Friends With Hearts is made possible by partnering with Good Shepherd. The organization seeks out the families who receive the gifts through their program. “It has been a great partnership and I can’t say enough good things about them,” says Jay.

A new partnership this year is Mastermind Toys in Ancaster. “They’re going to help us stretch our dollar, donate a bunch, and one evening after hours they’re going to close down the store to have a Friends With Hearts shopping night just for us,” says Jay.

Friends With Hearts in 2016. Photo courtesy of Jay Perry
Friends With Hearts in 2016. Photo courtesy of Jay Perry

Friends With Hearts is now accepting donations – 100% of which go to buying the gifts that Jay and friends volunteer to shop for. You can also help by donating your time by sharing their posts on social media, share this article, tell your friends, or plan an event and donate proceeds to the cause.

One event coming up to raise funds is Hands For Hearts on December 2nd at Sous Bas hosted by Child and Family Pathways. Do you know of more events? Let us know!

Another fun way to volunteer is by attending the annual wrapping event. Held at Jay’s studio, join in for a jolly afternoon on Sunday, December 10th to enjoy festive treats and wrap all of those presents. Learn more details on Friends With Hearts Hamilton Chapter page. I’ll see you there!

Friends With Hearts
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Quotes from Jay are taken from our conversation on 93.3 CFMU.

Originally posted November 16, 2017 on The Inlet.

Kristin Archer is the creator of I Heart Hamilton (, where she has blogged about experiences around her hometown since 2011, growing a social media presence along the way. Encouraging locals to “be a tourist in your own city,” she promotes arts and culture across her various social media platforms, blog, and weekly radio show on 93.3 CFMU.

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