Connecting During a COVID Christmas
by Tracy Rahn (Christmas Bureau Coordinator) and Rebecca Thuro
If there is one thing that connects us all as human beings, it’s the deep desire to be seen. To be known. To feel that we belong. It is, in the simplest terms, the need for connection – this has been especially highlighted in a year where isolation is necessary. I (Tracy Rahn) experienced some of the most profound moments of connection, of empathy and understanding at this year’s Christmas Bureau. I found it peeking out from behind masked faces, passing sets of eyes that we sometimes may not even recognize as our neighbour or old acquaintance.
I must admit, stepping into the Coordinator role as a first-timer felt a bit intimidating. I realized very quickly that there really is some sort of intangible Christmas magic that makes its way through those toy shelves. Day after day I met new people. New sets of eyes. New faces. I heard stories. I learned names. We shared laughs, we shared tears. I witnessed as our volunteer teams were radically impacted by this same tangible energy that I too was feeling, hearing, and getting to know. The lives we have the honour of stepping alongside of and linking arms with and saying, “you know what, I see you and you are valuable.”
There’s a reason the old adage has been passed down through the generations that “It takes a village to raise a child.” a guest reminded me of it, with tears in both of our eyes. I became her village in that moment and she became mine, and there again was that intangible magic of Christmas, of humanity connecting in a toy room.
That connection was felt by sponsors that supported families and seniors over the holidays as well.
“COVID hurt us all in one way or another and the Christmas Bureau was such a light for us and for the family we sponsored. I went to some local stores telling them I was looking for a gift for this family and so many stores offered a discount or threw in an additional gift knowing it was going to a family that was hit hard by COVID. It was such a lovely eye-opening heartfelt experience I needed to close 2020. I loved my family and I do plan on keeping in touch with them this year. Thank you for all you do and getting me in touch with a family that is needing help this year” – Katie
Every year the Christmas Bureau provides two ways for community members to engage in support. The first is through sponsorship of families and seniors requesting support over the holiday season. Families and seniors are matched with groups that wish to sponsor by providing temporary support. The support of the sponsor includes shopping for food and gifts for their matched family. For those that are not sponsored, the Christmas Bureau provides support by ensuring those families and seniors still have access to good food and new gifts.
Through collections gathered by the community, the Christmas Bureau builds and distributes food hampers, as well as provides a place where families can shop for gifts for their children in a toy room. This year, with the support of our community, sponsors and volunteers, we were able to ensure that over 3,200 people experienced the joy of Christmas – this includes 1,873 children and 262 seniors.
What are Recipients Saying?
“I was recently laid off after going back to work for a couple months due to COVID. I am a grandma raising my 4 year old grandson alone and without help from this program I wouldn’t be able to afford anything close to the toys he received from “Santa” he was very excited and happy with all his presents. It was a big weight off my shoulders knowing I was going to receive help from the Christmas Bureau. And the gift card and food we received pretty much covered our Christmas dinner. I’m very grateful.” – Gloria
“It made for a very special Christmas. This holiday isn’t about the material items, I know. However, to watch my daughter tear into her gifts with a look of sheer joy on her face and to hear her squeal in excitement… Well, there’s nothing quite like it. The people at the toy room were so kind and wonderful. I kept asking myself what I did to deserve that sort of kindness from others? It was so special and honestly made the difficulties of the past year all worth it.” – Marie
Quotes from families and seniors who received Sponsorship:
“They accepted that we were struggling and didn’t look down on us. They were very engaging in that they knew all our likes and dislikes – it felt like we had been friends over a long period of time. Keeping our teenage son fed and feeling full is usually difficult. We felt that we were truly blessed because instead of having to get more food from the store weekly we are on week 2 of eating the food that the sponsors gave us. They were thoughtful and helpful by sponsoring us.” – Anonymous family
“I am eternally grateful for this program as I am a single mom and wouldn’t have been able to make Christmas happen with year. I was on the verge of tears when the sponsors came to drop the items and I wish I could’ve given them a great big hug for all their generosity.” – Sydney
“I have been alone since March and with COVID have had no visitors. Christmas was looking pretty bleak. Getting these things from a sponsor gave me something to look forward to and enjoy….I live in the slippers they gave me.” – Anonymous Senior
“I was very grateful to be helped by a family. I live alone and Christmas is a hard time, knowing people care is a great present that warms my heart.” – Anonymous Senior
“With the stress of losing my job and the virus I was so worried the effect it would have on my young daughter and you as well as our sponsor took everyone of those stresses away” – Anonymous family