One Winnipeg group is changing the way people donate during the holidays with a little strategic buying and thousands of cookies.

Local Investment Towards Employment, or LITE, is a non-profit group nestled in Winnipeg’s downtown that has been creating Christmas hampers stuffed with locally-sourced goods for 20 years.

The group takes cash donations and turns them into locally-sourced hampers, supporting Winnipeg-based businesses with the aim of creating more jobs.

“What we try to do is make sure that that hamper has two purposes,” said Anne Lindsey, the group’s executive director. “It fills the needs for those people, but because we buy the goods from inner city businesses and enterprises that hire local people, they’re also benefiting from it.”

And this year, they’ve taken the initiative a little further with a job skills program that’s filling a need for food during the holidays and jobs during the rest of the year.

LITE teamed up with Wolseley Family Place’s food connection program to teach job skills to women while they create cookies for the hampers.

The kitchen is teaching food handling and preparation to a number of women over the holiday season, and pumping out thousands of cookies a week for the hampers.

“A lot of good stuff is happening in this kitchen, which I’m proud of,” said Tara Benzangi, who was hired by the program. “You can be able to give away something that somebody wants – it makes me feel so happy.”

The executive director of Wolseley Family Place said the skills the women learn in the kitchen connection program help them land jobs outside the centre.

“It’s about that staff development,” said Sharon Taylor. “They define the goals as to how they would like to achieve [them] so it’s been super successful.”

The program has already started delivering hundreds of hampers to families, and more are on their way.