SOWINS sharing the spirit of the holidays in Penticton

After fleeing abuse, Clara Berde knows first hand the importance of helping women in need.

Longtime SOWINS volunteer Clara Berde was back on the job again this week with SOWINS employees Bethany Handfield (back left) and Sheila Robertson. Berde helps with the hampers which are distributed by the organization to the less fortunate each Christmas.

Longtime SOWINS volunteer Clara Berde was back on the job again this week with SOWINS employees Bethany Handfield (back left) and Sheila Robertson. Berde helps with the hampers which are distributed by the organization to the less fortunate each Christmas.

After fleeing abuse, Clara Berde knows first hand the importance of helping women in need.

In the early 2000s Berde had to leave Osoyoos and the South Okanagan Women In Need Society was there to help.

“I had to leave because my life was in danger. I had to leave everything. The house, everything,” Berde said. “Then moving into transition (housing) It was such a shock to my system because I never in my life was involved with anything like that,” Berde said. “It was awful.”

She has been giving back for over 13 years to the organization which helped her in her time of need.

Starting as early as October, Berde helps with the paperwork and mail related to the Share the Spirit program, helping match donors to women in need.

“They helped me when I needed help and then I started to volunteer. Quite a long time now,” Berde laughed. “I never knew this place existed until I needed it.”

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A long-time volunteer in Vancouver, Berde used to drive people to doctor appointments and give a hand wherever she could.

“I just like to do that because when I was working and when I had a business I was very, very busy, six or seven days a week working, then all of a sudden when I had time, when I sold the business I just wanted to do something to help other people,” Berde said. “It’s very good for the people you help, plus it’s a good feeling. It’s nice to do because there’s so many people out there who need help.

Despite building up some good karma over the years, she still has trouble asking for a hand.

“I hate to ask for favours even for a ride or something,” Berde laughed.

For her, it’s more rewarding to give than to receive.

“It’s such a glorious feeling to see all these gorgeous presents nicely wrapped and big hampers and they’re so happy and crying and everything. It’s a very difficult time to go through,” Berde said. “I like to volunteer because it makes a lot of people happy and I know when someone needs help it’s very important that somebody is there to step in.”

Bethany Handfield, marketing co-ordinator with SOWINS, said the program helps women in need across the spectrum from young single mothers to seniors.

“They all kind of have different needs over the holidays and we’ve just found over the last couple of years, just because of the housing crisis that we’re experiencing right now and a lot of people having issues with employment. When you’ve experienced abuse, whether it’s current or historical, for some people there are financial barriers that come with that as well,” Handfield said. “Especially if they’ve had to uproot their family, moved to another area or moved to be away from the abuser. Women tend to be in a lessened financial position after they leave and so a lot of our families, especially this time of the year, are really, really struggling.”

Share the Spirit is a way to give back with a more personal touch than monetary donations, Handfield said.

Donors are provided a Christmas wish list for the family of their choice and they create the hamper. The goal is to have hampers include enough food or grocery vouchers (preferred) to feed a family for one week.  The suggested value of the groceries is $60 for a single woman and $125 for a mother with two children. SOWINS also asks that the hamper include two gifts for each family member.

“We had one family, a single mother, I believe she had about five children. So you can imagine the financial stress and burden. You’re fleeing abuse and you’ve got five kids, you’re struggling to find a home,” Handfield said. “The hamper, it was donated by a larger organization, they basically kitted her out for a brand new life.”

Moments like those make the effort more than worthwhile for Handfield.

“When she saw what they donated, she saw Rubbermaids and bags and it was just ongoing all the stuff that was coming in for this family, she just broke down because she couldn’t believe there was people in the community who cared that much about her and about making this new start that they would just give to her for free,” Handfield said. “It was so amazing to see that and be a part of that.”

The program also reaches out to seniors who for different reasons are isolated or away from their family.

“For them, receiving these hampers is just again, showing them that there’s people out there thinking about them, that they’re not alone,” Handfield said. “Even though they might never meet these people, they have this experience of connection with them and connection to community. Which is almost better than some of the gifts.”

The hampers are only available to women who have used SOWINS’ services in the past year.

SOWINS is also looking to staff the Share the Spirit donation room with volunteers from Dec. 5 to 22. Morning and afternoon shifts are available.

SOWINS clients are invited to a Christmas party on Dec. 12 as well, sponsored by Vanilla Pod and Poplar Grove Winery. The party needs volunteers to help out with set up, clean up and bussing tables.

The Share the Spirit day are on Dec. 14 and 15. Sponsors of hampers drop off on those days and SOWINS clients will pick them up, where volunteers are needed as well with morning and afternoon shifts.

Those looking to volunteer can contact Handfield at 250-493-4366 ext. 105  or email volcoord@sowins.com.

SOWINS is in the middle of moving offices. After Nov. 28 there will be a few days where SOWINS is not accepting donations, re-opening Dec. 2 at the new address at 1027 Westminster Avenue W.

Individual donations in the form of new, unwrapped gifts, new personal care products, non-perishable food items or gift certificates to local stores are also accepted. Monetary donations are invited too and donations over $20 are eligible for a tax receipt. Last year 115 women and 190 children benefited from Share the Spirit, numbers SOWINS is hoping to top this year.