Students spread Christmas cheer downtown

Langley, B.C.—Christmas may still be a few days away, but Trinity Western University students have already been spreading the holiday cheer. From gathering teddy bears for kids, to throwing a party for teens and a dinner for low income families, TWU students worked on more than just their studies this exam season.

Second year education student Melissa Wyville has always had a passion for children. That’s why she took part in ‘KICK,’ a group of 25 TWU students who spend Saturday mornings at Vancouver’s Union Gospel Mission (UGM) with a group of underprivileged kids. Each week the students provide the children with a pancake breakfast, craft, stories, and love. So it’s no surprise that when a friend offered Wyville some teddy bears as gifts for the kids, the two had a brainwave: why not do conduct a teddy bear drive and raise stuffed animals for all 40 UGM children?

“Most of these kids won’t have much under the Christmas tree,” says Wyville. “We thought it would be nice to give them something special just so they know we care. We do crafting and things like that with them, but this is something personal that they can take home—besides, it’s fuzzy and cozy,” she says.

In early December Wyville and her friends spread the word. They pounded the TWU pavement and picked up donated bears at dorm meetings. “Some people really sacrificed,” says Wyville. “Most people who live in dorms have only brought the basics with them. So any stuffed animal they have with them is usually quite special. Several girls mentioned how their bear has a lot of sentimental value, but they figured that the children needed it more. It was nice to see them give so freely and not hold back.”

Wyville says that even the guys got into the giving spirit. “They were really willing to donate money so we could get more—certainly a sacrifice for any college student, so that was cool to watch.”

By the time the weeklong drive concluded, 82 bears had been collected. Wyville explained how the ‘wide-eyed’ UGM children were stunned that not only could they pick a teddy bear, but they could keep it.

And children weren’t the only ones receiving to Christmas cheer this season. Inspired by a visit to Vancouver’s Ivanhoe Hotel with her anthropology class earlier in the semester, TWU student Chami Nagai led a group of students who brought Christmas dinner to the hotel residents. Throughout December, many TWU students made ornaments, Christmas cards and personal invitations, and on December 12th five students drove to the Ivanhoe to prepare the dinner and visit with the residents.

“The Ivanhoe residents are SRO’s (single room occupancy),” explains Genevieve John, a second year education student who helped prepare the dinner. “These people would be on the streets without it, so they’re very much at risk.”

The Ivanhoe, C&N Backpackers hostel and the Dominion hotel are all owned by TWU anthropology professor, Claudia Launhardt. They all exist to help combat the city of Vancouver’s shortage of affordable housing crisis. The opening of the Dominion to the homeless, coupled with provisions by the government helped bring the 2002 Woodward’s squat to a close. And though many residents now have a form of housing, they don’t necessarily have a home.

“For many of the residents, Christmas will most likely be lonely,” says second year education student Genevieve John who helped organize the dinner. “Some of them are without family and many feel forgotten. This could be the only Christmas experience they have. That’s why I want us to do the best we can for them.”

The Langley Food Bank provided soup (chicken noodle and mushroom), bread and snacks. The students also provided hot chocolate, candy canes and chips.

“We served the food, but what we spent a lot of our time doing was singing Christmas carols with them and helping them decorate.” says John. “When we arrived, all they had was an empty tree, so we helped them decorate it with the ornaments we’d brought, and ones we helped them make. You should have seen their faces. They were so proud! They kept adding and fixing things. The tree was very simple, but very meaningful.” Genevieve had such a good time with the residents that she hopes to continue the tradition next year.

And Ivanhoe residents weren’t the only ones who had a big Christmas party. Teens on the East side had some Christmas cheer also. Fourth year nursing student Jen Chamberlain leads the Junior High portion of Youth Extreme, a group of TWU students who run a Friday night youth group for teens downtown. Each week the 30 kids are picked up from their homes and taking to Youth Group where they do a myriad of activities such as swimming, rollerblading, BBQ’s, food fight games and a myriad of other fun activities in a safe environment.

This December, Chamberlain and her group threw a big Christmas party for the teens. “It went really well,” she says. “Two ladies volunteered to make turkeys for us. We came early and made mashed potatoes, carrots and all the other trimmings.” In addition, money had been donated so the kids could have a gift exchange. “Even the boys who are too cool to get excited were talking and smiling,” laughs Chamberlain. “It was the highlight of the night.”

Chamberlain explains just how important it is for many of these kids to take a break from their home lives. “They’re very sweet kids, but very tough. They’ve had a lot of stuff put on them at a very early age. A lot of them have either been victimized or witnessed the victimization of someone else. One girl expressed how out of all the 24 hours in a day, youth group is the only place she feels safe.”

The Christmas party is equally important for the teens. “They probably won’t get out of the City—they hardly ever leave Vancouver,” says Chamberlain. “A lot of times they don’t have money to do a fun Christmas. For some of them it’ll be a time just like the rest of the year. So we feel privileged to give them a time where they can just be kids.”

Last Updated: 2015-07-13
Author: Keela Keeping