For many of us, Christmas is a wonderful time of the year; visiting family and friends, exchanging gifts, and sharing meals. For the most part, our Holiday stress stems from trying to find that “perfect” gift for someone special in our lives. If only that were true for all of us. The truth is that 18.5% of Island children are living in poverty, which means Christmas can be a very difficult time of year for many families.
This has been compounded by the recent hardships faced by many because of COVID-19 related unemployment, mental health issues, and other challenges. This Christmas season is going to be even more challenging for those that were already vulnerable and for many others who are experiencing a sudden reduction in income because of COVID-19. We know that there is an increase in the need for extra support because the demand for our bi-monthly food program – Project Backpack – has doubled in the past six months since the beginning of COVID-19 Public Health measures.
At the Boys & Girls Club of Charlottetown, we support children and youth through our Christmas Families – Holiday Hamper Program. This program provides families in need with gifts for the youth and all the fixings for a Christmas dinner. Each year, we strive to provide as many hampers as we can. In 2019 we provided Holiday support to 19 children and teens.
What makes our program unique is that we give parents agency in the process by empowering them to choose the items they need for themselves and we act as an intermediary, so the process is confidential and any stigma about receiving support is removed. The entire package is given to the families at least two weeks before Christmas with wrapping supplies so there is no pressure of a time crunch and the joy of preparing for Christmas morning is felt by everyone.
Each year, the program is made possible through donations and sponsorship from local businesses and individuals. A contribution to the Christmas Families Program goes directly toward purchasing the items on each families’ list. Parents provide us with their children’s list which includes “something their children want, something they need, something to wear and something to read”. The list of needs varies, depending on the family, but we always have requests for the basics such as socks, snow pants, mittens, pajamas, and toiletries. Some other examples of the requests we have received this year include books, Lego, board games, art supplies, and sleds.