Christmas Eve is the most sentimental day of the year and the one that carries the most emotional freight.
For months TV and radio have been consumed with convincing us what we should put under the tree tonight, the crescendo arriving this week. It is, of course, a symphony being played to an audience well-off enough to listen and be impressed.
For the poor it is a cruel reminder that they are excluded. The poor can celebrate what is a religious holiday marking Christ’s birth but there is no way for them to indulge in all the rest — the presents, the abundance of food and drink, the satisfaction of being secure in a warm and comfortable home.
So this is a message of thanks to all our readers who have supported The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign and are helping some poor families have a decent Christmas.
AAS is designed to help feed and clothe impoverished children at school but a growing amount of the money raised is being given to families when they have no food or money or face other emergencies.
And at Christmas, AAS has directed money to a number of groups that help us during the year so they can reach families who would have little or nothing at Christmas.
Tracey MacKinlay and Pam Bragagnolo have been working for two months to create Christmas hampers for 55 families whose children attend two Vancouver elementary schools, Strathcona and Queen Alexandra. AAS provides $7,500 towards the hampers and a number are provided by parents attending Queen Mary Elementary school.
It takes a workforce of 38 people to buy presents and wrap them and deliver the hampers, says MacKinlay.
“These are our friends and we couldn’t do it without their help,” she said.
The presents aren’t just grabbed off a shelf, MacKinlay and Bragagnolo find out what each person in a family would like and shopping involves finding gifts for hundreds of adults and children.
Each hamper contains a gift certificate worth at least $125 for a family’s preferred supermarket with some being substantially more depending on the size of the family. The value of the hampers varies from $400 over $500.
“We try our best to personalize our hampers because it is important that families get what they want and enjoy their Christmas,” said MacKinlay.
This is all done in addition to the pair running the Fill The Gaps program at Queen Alexandra, which feeds families alternative weekends during the school year. (On other weekends food is provided from a backpack program.)
This is funded by AAS and Bragagnolo and MacKinlay provide 30 food packs — enough to feed families of four to six people over the weekend — which includes a menu and cooking directions. The tuna on the menu is donated by Blundell Seafoods and there are 144 cases of it stored in MacKinlay’s garage.
To do this takes hours of shopping and packing so for them the Christmas spirit exists year round.
Meanwhile, in Surrey staff at the school district’s Safe Schools team have used AAS funds and hundreds of gifts donated by London Drugs to bring Christmas to families of some of the most at-risk youths in the community.
It is AAS money which is helping keep these youth safe by providing food and clothes so they are not vulnerable to criminal exploitation, says Sarah McKay who runs the Safe Schools program.
Finally, there’s Vancouver dentist Dr. Joyce Chan who won’t have presents under the tree this year because she has asked her family to donate the money to AAS instead. As she did last year.
A recent story on Chan’s Christmas resolve had a moving postscript. It inspired Chan’s suppliers to give donations to AAS rather than buying the gifts they would send her as a thank you for her business. Other dental professionals came in with money. Even strangers. One came in with $2,000. It all added up to $15,000.
But then a young girl arrived and in her hand was a tightly folded note in a small plastic bag that contained $2.50.
“She handed it to me and said he wanted to help, too. It was the sweetest thing. I almost cried,” said Chan.
The total was now $15,002.50.
She opened the note and this is what it said:
“I think all kids should have food to eat so they can grow and not have to go hungry and sick. I also think that it is nice that people giving food to kids that don’t have food and they have breakfast for the kids who don’t have money for food and it is nice they are even giving food for the weekend.”
It was signed Sara.
And so to Sara and to all who have helped us: Merry Christmas.
By Gerry Bellett (email@example.com)