Special to The NEWS
There’s a place, nestled away in downtown Parksville, that holds the wishes and dreams of hundreds of local children. It’s a magical place, forged together by pure love and kindness, and stacked to the brim with toys and gifts for local families who need a little extra help at Christmas.
It’s called the SOS Toy Shop, created using donated new gifts provided by the community, and staffed with big-hearted community volunteers. These volunteers have been working away to create a warm and inviting place where low-income residents in district 69 can come shop for free, so all local children will have a gift to unwrap on Christmas morning.
“My favourite part is the people who are sincerely thankful, people who come into the Toy Shop and have tears in their eyes and give you a big hug — and it makes their Christmas,” said Pat Holkestad, a Chairperson with this year’s team of Christmas Toy Shop volunteers.
“It truly is a wonderful feeling.”
Elaine Eddy is another volunteer designated as a Toy Shop Chairperson at SOS again this year. She said there is a real joy that encircles the Toy Shop, from the baking families enjoy while waiting for their turn to enter, to the decorations surrounding the shop.
“It has an atmosphere of happiness when they walk in the door,” Holkestad said.
The SOS Caring for Kids at Christmas Program is available for parents, caregivers and grandparents to access a gift for a child, and it also helps individuals with grocery store gift cards so they can look forward to sharing a special meal over the holidays. To make a contribution to the program, bring in a new, unwrapped toy to the SOS Office at 245 West Hirst Avenue in Parksville, Monday through Friday, 8:30-4:30 p.m. Cash donations can be made online at www.sosd69.com, by phone, 250-248-2093, or in person.
The SOS collects toys for the program year-round, and as Christmas approaches, two big events help ensure the Toy Shop is stacked with gifts: the Silver Spur Toy Ride and the Tigh-Na-Mara Toy Drive. The SOS Angel Tree Program also helps the SOS get those gifts that the Toy Shop consistently needs. This year, 38 local businesses and outlets have signed up to host a tree adorned with SOS Angels. On the back of those ornaments are suggested gifts that have been identified as in-demand in the Toy Shop. Find a list of businesses with SOS Angel Trees on the SOS website. A number of other local groups and businesses also assist the SOS in providing gifts and grocery store gift cards for residents in-need at Christmas time.
Holkestad said she enjoys working in the Toy Shop, particularly when she gets to help people find that special gift they know their child will love. Eddy agreed, recalling last year when a family with four children was able to get a bike.
“You knew that bike was going to be well-used,” she said.
The Toy Shop can always use items for teens, as they usually run out of these items first. Eddy said last year, after taking a number of parents through the Toy Shop to select gifts, they ran out of books, and were particularly short on books for teens. Holkestad said she hopes this year there will be some more items for parents of teens.
“I always feel really badly taking people in with a teenager, because I’m thinking, Oh there’s not a lot left in there for teenagers. Sometimes there are gift cards, but I just wish there were more for teens and tweens,” she said.
Eddy said the Christmas program could also use some more baking items for those waiting to enter the Toy Shop.
Both ladies said their volunteer jobs at the SOS are rewarding, they enjoy giving back to the community, and they both like to work with other excited volunteers who are looking to help spread joy.
“I want to thank the SOS for doing so much for community and for allowing us to come and volunteer,” said Holkestad.
Eddy agreed, and said she’s looking forward to interacting with SOS clients this year. “Its fun to see these parents get excited about gifts for their children, and the caring that went into getting those gifts here.”
For more information on the SOS and the Caring for Kids at Christmas Program visit www.sosd69.com.