June* swore it would be different for her kids.
Growing up, she remembers there being very little food at Christmastime. And very little of anything else, for that matter.
“Every day, I saw worry on my mom’s face,” she said. “She’d have a pot on the stove with potatoes and a few carrots, and one Christmas we had potato soup for dinner. That was it. No one should have to eat like that on Christmas.”
Her mother told her and her two brothers not to put their stockings out one Christmas, in case Santa didn’t make it.
June’s memories get brighter when she recalled when her mom began accessing the SOS Christmas program. June would ask for simple things, she said, such as a baby doll, skipping rope or a colouring book.
“I didn’t need much. I was so thankful to have a couple of things under the tree, otherwise we literally wouldn’t have had anything.”
Later, when she moved out on her own, she worked very hard so that her own kids wouldn’t see that kind of struggle.
However when she was pregnant with her daughter, she suffered from a medical condition and found herself in an abusive situation.
She made the decision to get out of that relationship, but she was single, pregnant and unable to work. She could no longer do it alone.
“I could either eat or pay rent. I didn’t have anyone to ask. I remembered that SOS helped my mom so I went there. I walked in there with my head down, and I was welcomed with open arms,” she said. “I was treated with respect, I wasn’t shamed or belittled. I left there with my chin up and a smile on my face. I got the help I needed and it meant so much.”
June used the program for two years, and said it was a turning point in her life. She came to a realization so important that it filled her with hope, renewed her faith in humanity, and made her determination stronger than ever.
“It made me realize that other people care,” she said. “They cared that my daughter had food and they wanted to help. I choked back my pride when I went in there. I got the help I needed and that pointed me in the right direction. And a couple of years later I got back on my feet.”
For many years now, June has been giving back. She has made hampers anonymously for people at Christmas, she has acted as Santa Claus for family members and other families in need, and she donates at Christmastime to various charities.
“I give back because I’ve been there. I don’t want kids waking up with nothing under their tree.”
June says it has been a struggle to get where she is today. She now has a good job and maintains healthy relationships. She said her decision to ask for help at that time in her life helped shape the rest of her life.
“I am who I am today because I asked for help at SOS.”
She has advice for people who may find themselves in a similar situation this Christmas.
“Even if you are scared and you feel alone, reach out your hand and someone will grab it and they will help you, and protect you. This is not forever; the help is here. Take it.”
This year marks the 50th year of the SOS Caring for Community at Christmas program.
Today the program provides gifts for children and youth, and local grocery store gift cards so families and individuals can choose food that is meaningful to them over the holidays.
In order to meet the needs of all the residents who access the program, SOS is hoping to raise $115,000 by Christmas, and is only about halfway to that goal today.
To help bring smiles to the faces of local families, adults and seniors this Christmas, consider donating online at www.sosd69.com, donate over the phone by calling 250-248-2093, or drop in to the SOS Community Services Centre in downtown Parksville, at 245 West Hirst Ave. from 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
*The subject’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
— Lissa Alexander is the marketing co-ordinator at SOS