We all need a little help sometimes, and Marie remembers when she came to that stark realization a few years ago at Christmas.
“I’ve been quite proud in years past, but my son had cancer… and (I thought) this program is here to use and we need help; we can’t do it all by ourselves,” she said. “And it’s really wonderful that the community supported us.”
The program that supported them is SOS Caring for Community at Christmas (formerly known as Caring for Kids at Christmas), and this marks its 50th year. The program got started in 1968 in Parksville Qualicum Beach by concerned residents who noticed that families and individuals were going without basic necessities.
Today, the program ensures that all local children and youth have a special gift to unwrap at Christmas, and that families and individuals can choose food items that are meaningful to them over the holidays. The program also partners with local Newcomers’ Clubs to deliver treat-filled Christmas stockings to seniors who are shut-in or without close friends or family.
In order to provide enough gifts to support all of our local families in need, SOS endeavours to fill a Toy Shop so that parents, caregivers and grandparents can come in and shop for their children — for free. The majority of these gifts are collected from the Tigh-Na-Mara Toy Drive, which is now in its ninth year.
“For us, the toy drive is the start of Christmas,” Tigh-Na-Mara general manager Paul Drummond said. “Our whole team gets behind it. After eight years, the team sees it as part of their festivities. We all get a tingle. To see the community get involved… they’re part of it. To think of the smiles the kids get on Christmas morning that they wouldn’t have had otherwise, it really does move us all.”
A memory from the very first toy drive has stuck with Drummond. He remembers a little girl in a beautiful Christmas dress with a toy in her hand. He later learned from her parents that they had benefitted from the SOS Christmas program as recipients previously, and had gotten back on their feet.
“If you can get that whole domino effect of the next generation looking after each other and giving back to the community, that’s another huge part of what SOS does,” he said.
Over the years, the toy drive has collected more than 12,000 gifts and more than $40,000 in cash and gift cards for the SOS Christmas program.
Marie said the community donations are a wonderful blessing for families who can’t quite make ends meet during the holidays.
“The wages are not very good here, rentals are expensive, bills are high, people are living paycheque to paycheque,” she said. “So to be able to go to SOS and shop for the kids without worrying, ‘Can I afford this? How am I going to pay my bills if I buy this?’ This program is just such a relief. And it’s a beautiful way for the community to give to others in need.”
The Tigh-Na-Mara Toy Drive takes place from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Nov. 29 at Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort and Conference Centre. Bring an unwrapped gift and enjoy a free breakfast. A drive-thru breakfast and toy drop off is available from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
This year there is a strong need for gifts for teenagers, gift cards, lego, plush toys, and toys for infants. For more on SOS, visit www.sosd69.com.
— Lissa Alexander is the
marketing coordinator at SOS. firstname.lastname@example.org.