(Photo submitted) SOS has seen an 153 per cent increase in children registered in the Caring for Community at Christmas program compared with 10 years ago.

SOS seeing increasing need for support at Christmas

Life is not always easy when you are a low-income, single mother, especially when Christmas is right around the corner.

Estelle needed help putting food on the table and providing gifts for her children last year, but she was nervous at first about accessing the SOS Caring for Community at Christmas program, she said. Once she arrived at SOS, her anxiety eased, and after picking out some great gifts and receiving a grocery store gift card, she had a lot to look forward to.

“The grocery store gift card was my special gift from SOS,” she explained. “I was able to buy nuts and mandarins and a holiday ham.”

Volunteer Christmas elves helped Estelle find the right gifts for her children in the SOS Toy Shop, and she said she really enjoyed watching them open these special items on Christmas morning.

“The Christmas program gave my kids a wonderful Christmas, complete with a holiday meal,” she said. “I’m so grateful for this service and all services offered by SOS.”

The Caring for Community at Christmas program was the first program SOS began offering in 1968. The program has evolved with the changing needs of the community, and relies on community donations to meet the needs of residents who apply.

During the last 10 years, there has been an 153 per cent increase in the number of children registered in the program, which equates to 755 more children helped. There has also been an 82 per cent increase in registrations for the program, which equals 1,081 more registrations than 10 years ago. Last year, the total number of local residents who registered for the program was 2,394, including 1,248 children.

“These statistics really speak to the need in our communities,” said SOS executive director Susanna Newton.

“We have been seeing an increasing amount of folks struggling to make ends meet. We do our best to fill the gaps and ensure people have what they need to get by, and we also want to help them feel healthy and experience some joy. At Christmas time, we appeal to the community to help us provide our residents in-need with special food items, and to help them keep Christmas magic alive for their children.”

The SOS Caring for Community at Christmas program provides children and youth with special gifts, and families and individuals receive grocery store gift cards so they may choose food that is important to them.

The program also enables local grandparents to provide gifts for their grandchildren.

Robin’s father passed away last year, and Christmas was particularly difficult for her mother and the rest of the family. (Robin’s name has been changed to protect her identity).

The loss of her father hung heavy on the family throughout the holiday, and it also left her mother in a tough financial situation. “She was not working and she had nothing to offer the grandkids or anyone at Christmas. She is very proud, and that was very difficult.” Robin said she told her mother about the SOS Caring for Community at Christmas program, and then gave her a couple of friendly nudges.

“It was a huge sigh of relief,” she said, once her mother registered for the program. “For her to be able to give something to the grandkids without worrying, that was huge.”

Over the last 10 years, the cost to cover the registrations for the Christmas program has increased 135 per cent. SOS is hoping to raise $110,000 this year to meet the needs of residents who access the Christmas program.

To support the program, donate online at www.sosd69.com, call 250-248-2093 or drop by one of the SOS Community Services Centres in Parksville or Qualicum Beach with a monetary donation, or a new, unwrapped gift for the SOS Toy Shop.

– Submitted by Lissa Alexander, SOS

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