by Taylor Berry

I’m going to defend something a lot of people don’t understand: the celebrity swag bag. There’s a lot of contempt for celebs scoring free stuff when, after all, they can afford to buy anything they need. But don’t be bitter, friends! This isn’t what celebrity swag is about! Hear me out–some genuine good comes from celebrity swag, and that’s the idea that both IT Lounge and Tastemakers Lounge have been working with over TIFF.

When you walk into one of these swanky lounges, it looks like some kind of lavish career fair, except tables are heaped with free products instead of, you know, brochures and pens. You can have a glass of white wine and a snack while you walk around and collect your gifts–I’m pretty sure that if heaven exists, it’s something like this.

The idea behind these lounges is that they are a nice place for celebrities to wind down and pick up some free stuff, but at the same time they do a lot of good for both Canadian businesses and international charities. IT Lounge, held at the Windsor Arms Hotel, is the first gift suite in North America to have every sponsor contribute to a charity or cause. IT Lounge sponsors included Skyy Vodka, Please Mum, Kiehl’s, Teva, Sharpie, and SoU!, whose vitamin shots nursed us through some rough post-TIFF mornings. Sponsors had the benefit of celebs picking up their stuff (Jennifer Garner got some Please Mum togs for her adorable kids) and amazing causes benefiting from sponsors’ support included Big Brothers and Sisters of Toronto, Sick Kids Foundation, Girls on the Run, World Vision and the Canadian Cancer Society.

At the Tastemakers Lounge in the Intercontinental Hotel celebs gave the peace sign to help promote War Child, an amazing charity focused on helping children in areas of conflict. Fab photog Rosie Levine was in the lounge photographing celebrities for her upcoming book Celebrity Encounters of the Peace-ful Kind, a collection of celebs all flashing the peace sign for Rosie’s camera. All proceeds of Levine’s book will go to War Child. Sponsors at Tastemakers included AMC (free Mad Men box sets–aah!), Joe Fresh, Mattel, Canadian eco-label Guats, PC Home and Sexy Gourmet Food Company.

Celebrity swag is really a tool that can be used for a lot of good, which is the clever thinking behind both IT Lounge and Tastemakers. So even though you might think that you need that free Mad Men box set more than Woody Harrelson does, consider all of the charities and small Canadian companies that get exposure through swag suites and remember that they’re ultimately a way for stars to give back.