December 19, 2011

London Drugs toy tour brightens up lives of families experiencing tough times

When the school bells ring today signalling the start of Christmas holidays, it will be a joyful time for many kids.

Not so for students who are going home to places where there is not enough food to stretch through the holidays, let alone money for extras like a visit from Santa.

This week, London Drugs stepped in to play Santa for some of these kids, loading up a little convoy of vans and trucks to drop off toys for children who otherwise would have little cheer at Christmas.

“That week before Christmas is a tough one,” Margaret Jorgensen, principal at Strathcona elementary in Vancouver, told representatives from London Drugs who arrived at her school with huge bags of toys.

It was a refrain echoed by educators from Surrey to North Vancouver as the convoy stopped by schools that have shared their stories and their students’ needs with The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund Adopt-a-School program.

“In the past, teachers have just noticed need in their classes and referred families,” said Carol Davison, principal at Surrey’s Forsyth Road elementary school. “This year we decided to send out a form because we were afraid we were missing people who could use the help and we were just overwhelmed by the stories.

“We’ve got a single mother with seven children; she’s a refugee and she’s unemployed. How is she going to provide Christmas for them?

“There are people who do seasonal work, dads who have been laid off … people who are on disability, grandparents raising grandchildren. We don’t recognize sometimes that they really could use the help, so it’s great that the community is stepping up and being able to provide all this.”

While the Christmas season invariably stirs people to give, this year some of the educators on the London Drugs toy tour noted donations are down.

“It is getting tougher all over,” said Davison.

And the needs are year-round. Some of them are not so obvious – like the children who slip off their shoes to sit down and listen to stories at carpet time and it is only then their teachers realize they have walked to school in freezing temperatures with no socks.

Mary Higgins, merchandise manager at London Drugs, has been dropping off toys for needy children every year for the past 25 years. But this week marked the first time she has come face to face with the children she is helping and heard their stories that go far beyond simply needing a present for Christmas.

“This has been eye-opening for me,” said Higgins. “We have to protect these children.

“These children are the generations of our future.”

One of the stops was at CABE, Coquitlam Alternative Basic Education, where volunteers, including well-known Vancouver blogger Miss 604 – Rebecca Bollwitt – handed out toys for babies of teen moms in the program that is geared to vulnerable students.

“We appreciate everything that we get,” Vanessa Ellingson, mom and sole breadwinner for threeyear-old Pablo and seven-month-old Marley said.”Everything that we get is something that we don’t have to buy.

“It puts more food on our tables.”

London Drugs merchandising manager Mary Higgins watches as Roxanne Saxon and baby Willow look through a selection of donated toys at Coquitlam Alternative Basic Education school on Wednesday. Photograph by: Nick Procaylo, PNG

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