A program that began in the local schools 50 years ago is now bringing students from the school district together to make Christmas brighter for area children.
“We know a lot of people don’t get toys at Christmas and this will make them really happy,” said Janet Scaria, a Grade 10 student at Ballenas Secondary School. Scaria and about 30 other students from BSS are organizing a toy drive on Friday, Dec. 22, for the SOS Caring for Community at Christmas program. Scaria, who is also a volunteer at SOS, said that the students wanted to do something to support the community and she knows that SOS supports people throughout the district.
In November, 1968, SOS was founded thanks to the efforts of a number of people connected with the school district, including Pauline Touzeau, then chair of the school board, and Edith Chamberlayne, who worked as a school counsellor.
Teaching compassion for others and to care for residents in need are lessons that seem to resonate with local students at school, and it’s evident that these values are also important for parents to instill at home.
Robyn Gervais, a local realtor with Royal LePage, is one of those parents.
“I think it benefits us all when we reach out to neighbours and anyone who needs a little extra; it brings our community closer together,” said Gervais, who co-hosted the second annual Oceanside Cares for Community Food & Toy Fill Up at Save-On Foods this year with Pete Christou of On Line Electric. “I also love showing my daughters, by example, how to care for those around us and how we can each have a positive influence within our community.”
Todd Sjogren agrees. He’s with BMO Nesbitt Burns and co-hosted the second annual Community Toy Drive and Skate on the weekend with Tony MacAulay, of Anthony MacAulay Notary Corp.
“We want to show our kids it’s important to give back to the community,” said Sjogren. He added that skating and playing hockey is of interest to his and MacAulay’s kids, and they wanted to get them involved in the event. “We wanted to engage them and their friends so they can see the benefits of it.”
Other events that have benefitted the SOS Caring for Community at Christmas program are also examples that show children are excited and motivated to support other children in their community. The Silver Spur Equestrian Toy Ride saw a number of young people riding their horses through town collecting toys for the program, and there were countless children who came to have breakfast with their families at the Tigh-Na-Mara Toy Drive, handing over gifts for families who access the SOS Christmas program. In addition, several families have brought their children into SOS to drop off toy donations this Christmas.
The positive message that the community cares for our neighbours in need has been very evident in the community this Christmas, as 45 local businesses and organizations hosted SOS Angel Trees (a record number), and the Red Apple introduced a new event, Fill a Sleigh Day. That event on Dec. 9 involved the store endeavouring to fill an SUV, loaned by Harris Oceanside Chevrolet, with toys for SOS. Red Apple also donated 10 per cent of its toy sales that day to the SOS Christmas program.
“When there’s a smaller community there’s more awareness of what’s going on, so rather than step outside the box, we can contribute locally to people in need,” store manager Patricia McQuay said, adding that, unfortunately, the need seems to be growing every year in the Parksville Qualicum Beach community.
SOS executive director Renate Sutherland said that witnessing the community coming together in this way to support residents in need is very powerful. Teaching the next generation compassion and empathy is paramount, she added, as we continue to see families in our community living in poverty and needing assistance.
“Our hope is that we begin to see local families and individuals lifted out of poverty, but we know that there has been a strong need for community support of the SOS Christmas program over the past 50 years, and we thank community members and their children for recognizing this and continuing to step up to help us fill the gaps.”
SOS is hoping to raise $115,000 to meet all the needs of residents who access the Christmas program this year. So far about $80,000 has been raised. To donate to the SOS Caring for Community at Christmas program visit www.sosd69.com, call 250-248-2093 or drop by the SOS Community Services Centre in Parksville during business hours.
— Lissa Alexander is the marketing co-ordinator at SOS.