Should you be in search of the spirit of Christmas, so often lost in the rush to retail and piles of wrapping paper, look no farther than the delighted face of a youngster receiving an unexpected gift from a not-so-secret Santa.
Look no farther than Shania Johnson, who is in Grade 12 at the Coquitlam Adult Basic Education school, where her toddler son Aidan attends the on-site Little Scholars YWCA daycare.
Look no farther than the several dozen students at Spectrum Learning Centre in Vancouver, ushered into a room filled with bags of Barbies, Hot Wheels, action figures, stuffed animals, gloves, Transformers, books, toques, games and socks.
Look no farther than 17-year-old Jessie Wells, working toward her Grade 12 diploma at the Tupper Young Parents Program, an adjunct to Sir Charles Tupper Secondary in Vancouver where young mothers can complete their education while their children — like Wells’s 11-month-old son Thyren — are tended to in the adjoining YWCA Emma’s Early Learning and Child Care Centre.
They were just a few of the dozens of schoolchildren treated to a surprise visit this week when representatives from London Drugs embarked on the company’s fourth annual toy run in conjunction with The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-a-School program, which has been fundraising since 2011 to help needy schoolchildren.
When London Drugs wrapped up its two days of gift giving on Thursday, a total of seven schools in North Vancouver, Surrey, Vancouver and Coquitlam, found their spare rooms stuffed with bags of goodies.
At the Coquitlam Adult Basic Education school, teacher Karen Edgell said the donation of baby toys and equipment, along with soaps, creams and other toiletries for the 14 young moms in the program, is significant because the moms have so little that they find themselves choosing between buying bus tickets or food, leaving little for the life essentials many of us take for granted.
Johnson is grateful for the help, and opportunity, because she has big plans. “I want to be an elementary school teacher,” she says, and to that end, she intends to apply to Simon Fraser University once she completes high school. Her acceptance would make her the first graduate of the school to go directly on to SFU.
At Spectrum Learning Centre, students jostled about a small room jammed with gift bags and picked what best suited them, often settling for items they could give to friends, or their brothers and sisters.
Surveying the piles of goodies, head teacher Fran Alley said the London Drugs largesse was “unbelievable,” as was the generosity of business partners Peter Young and Lynn Woo, along with Lynn’s husband, Dr. Allan Woo, who were on hand and who will be providing surprises such as silk scarves for the school’s Christmas party, as well as free year-round dental care for the students through Woo’s Richmond dental clinic.
At Grandview Elementary in Vancouver, the school’s neighbourhood assistant Donna Mah decided to add the London Drugs bounty to other donations (including dozens of pairs of hand-knitted mittens donated by “the music teacher’s mom’s church”) that she has secreted away, all with the intention of putting together a gift bag for every student — which, at about 150, is a lot of gift bags.
“This means a lot because a lot of times our families don’t have a great Christmas,” says Mah. “A lot of times, gifts are just not first on the list for them.”
For Tupper student Wells, who plans to become a cosmetologist after she graduates, the stability of the school and the daycare offer a promising future. And she is grateful for programs like Adopt-a-School and benefactors like London Drugs for the helping hand at this time of year.
“It’s just a wonderful program and the teachers are great,” says Wells.
Among the deliveries making her eyes light up were bags full of toys, and personal items she wouldn’t ordinarily indulge in, such as makeup and hair products.
“This kind of thing just really helps.”
For Dave Woogman, store manager of the London Drugs Broadway and Cambie location, who delivered the gift bags in a big blue pickup along with London Drugs representative Wendy Hartley, it was all about the kids.
“It’s almost selfish, because we get back as much as we give. It’s humbling,” says Woogman. “We’re a successful retail business and there’s a social responsibility to give back to the community we serve. Hopefully, we inspire other companies to do the same thing.”
Because, he will tell you, there is nothing like that look on a child’s face when Santa — in any kind of incarnation — shows up.
“It’s great, because we get to see their faces.”
By Shelley Fralic (firstname.lastname@example.org)