Last December, Trinh Nguyen and her family were going through a crisis. They were being evicted, her husband had back pain and she was pregnant.
“It was just an incredibly stressful time for her,” said Kevin Doan, translating for the 36-year-old Vietnamese immigrant. Doan is a family preservation worker at West Coast Family Centres.
“The gifts that she received from the holiday hamper program brought light to her Christmas. Every single gift felt personal and meaningful to each, like to all four people in the family. She was especially happy that there was a coat for the newborn baby.”
Nguyen’s husband came over first, then sent for his his wife and child, Anna, four years ago. They now have three children; Anna, who is now nine, Justin who is 2 1/2 and Lincoln, who is eight months old.
The Nguyens were referred to West Coast Family Centres, which partners with the Children and Family Development Ministry. Among the services provided is a Holiday Hamper program. The program started a few years ago, says Ludovic Sioffi, volunteer chair of the WCFC’s Community Development Committee.
“I just pitched it to West Coast Family Centres, saying, ‘Do you think you can come up with a list of people and what they need?’ That original list was for about 15 to 20 people or so. And … if you ever saw what that list was, it would bring tears to your eyes. There weren’t requests for TVs or PlayStations. It was the kind of stuff that you and I probably take for granted. It was for food cards, diapers, socks, shoes and, maybe, if possible, one toy for their children.”
Last year, the group distributed 150 hampers. He expects upwards of 200 to go out this year.
“It changed my Christmas, basically my whole life,” said Anna, who might be exaggerating just a little. “When I first came here, I didn’t receive any presents and there was no Christmas tree. West Coast Family Centres helped me — I got a lot of presents, more than I needed. I was drowning in presents. So I donated some of them. But I kept most of them. I’m the kind of kid who keeps toys.”
Among her gifts was a Squishmallow stuffie. Also, “we had to open these crackers and there was stuff inside of it.”
Christmas is celebrated in Vietnam but “it’s not as exciting,” she said. “Here, there’s snow, and you can put up Christmas trees. We didn’t last year, though, because my little brother was going to kill the tree. Now he’s old enough.”
Justin got a xylophone for Christmas last year.
“He makes a lot of noise. He’s obsessed with it.”
Families signing up for the Holiday Hamper program create a wish list. Anonymous donors in the community do the shopping. Families also receives gift cards.
This year, Anna’s wish list includes pastel green pants: “I don’t have anything like that, and that’s my favourite colour. I like tie-dye and pastel. That’s my thing.”
Anna’s favourite cartoons include The Cuphead Show! on Netflix, based on a video game.
“They have Christmas editions,” she said. “I watched The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It’s really cool. I like how they rhyme everything.”
She has one more thing to say, she adds.
“West Coast Families has changed my Christmas. The people who helped me didn’t even know me. They just knew they were making kids happy.”
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