Giving the gift of Christmas

Christmas would not be the same for children this year without donations from the first Gateway Gives and LocoLanding Community Toy Drive.

Diana Stirling

Diana Stirling

Christmas would not be the same for hundreds of children this year without the donations from the first Gateway Gives and LocoLanding Community Toy Drive.

People who bring a new, unwrapped toy to the Nov. 26 sit-down breakfast from 6 to 9 a.m. at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre will be doing something nice for kids from Summerland through to Princeton.

In total of 16 agencies will receive toys to distribute to families whose youngsters might otherwise receive little or nothing.

In fact, according program coordinator Traci Fladager of the Dragonfly Pond Society, without the toys, her Christmas party would have to be changed or cancelled altogether.

“Ever since we started Dragonfly Pond we’ve relied heavily on the breakfast to get toys for the party,” said Fladager, whose agency works with kids with disabilities throughout the South Okanagan and Similkameen. “We don’t get toys from anywhere else and it is just so important for the children and such a big part of their Christmas to have Santa call their name and to come and sit on his knee — even the older ones — and just to see the joy in their faces.”

Over the years the number of families helped by Dragonfly has grown to 74 and according to the coordinator, the Christmas event is one of the few where everyone can get together in a comfortable setting.

“Especially for those who have complex care needs, perhaps if the child is loud or perhaps unable to sit through an event, it’s okay,” said Fladager. “There’s things for everybody to do. It’s in a large auditorium and there are quiet rooms, places where they can do crafts until Santa comes.

“It is so important for these children to receive something at this time of year because they are all dealing with disabilities so they all really believe (in Santa), every one of them believes.”

Tanya Behardian Executive director of the Penticton and District Community Resources Society is someone else who has experienced first hand a family’s happiness when getting a gift, no matter how small, to give to their children.

“Oh my goodness yes, I actually took some toys myself to a family, we arranged it at the time when the kids were not going to be at home,” she recalled. “The mom answered the door and we started to bring the boxes in and she just burst into tears. She was just overcome and relieved that anyone was going to do that for her, that she could actually provide something like that for her kids was really gratifying and relieving for her. You could see how much stress it really was.”

She added the number of families needing help continues to grow each and many of her agencies clients are often working two or more jobs and still can’t make ends meet and that stress is only compounded at this time of year.

“So we’re just trying to give them an experience they can enjoy over the holidays and part of that is providing the toys they can give to the kids,” said Behardian. “Really special to be able to do that and I’m glad we will be able to do that again this year thanks to these people (Gateway Casinos and Entertainment and LocoLanding).

Her society helps over 115 families and last year gave out 450 toys in addition to the other services it provides year round.

“I’ve also been directly involved with distributing the toys to families who need them,” said coordinator Cheri Mitchell, of the Community Action Plan for Children program in Keremeos which operates under the umbrella of the Lower Similkameen Community Services. “What I’ve seen is that people are really touched that there are still people out there that are trying make things better for people who aren’t able to access things for themselves.

“Perhaps it’s your opportunity to pay forward a little bit of the gifts you have and that goes along with the spirit of Christmas.”

Empty stockings to be filled can be picked up and dropped off at Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce office at 553 Vees Dr. for those unable to attend the breakfast.