The Santa challenge: Adopt a family in need this Christmas

Fraserside volunteers wrap presents to be distributed to low-income families in New Westminster through the Adopt-A-Family program.
Fraserside volunteers wrap presents to be distributed to low-income families in New Westminster through the Adopt-A-Family program.

A drug-addicted single mother of a 10-year-old girl trying and failing to hold her life together. A father of two, the sole breadwinner in the family, laid off from his job and desperate for work. Families like these struggle to scrape together money for groceries, let alone presents. As evidenced by the long lines at Metro Vancouver’s largest food bank here in New Westminster, many local families need help. They need you and me to step forward and offer it.

The families described above are real New Westminster families helped by the Adopt-A-Family program coordinated by Fraserside Community Services Society, which pairs low-income families with sponsors who step forward to give them a Christmas. Sponsors typically spend between $200-500 (depending on the size of the family) on groceries and toys for the kids. Unlike other programs, sponsors don’t just donate money but are paired with individual families and have the option to personally select the gifts and groceries for the families they adopt. The first 100 families to apply are guaranteed a spot in the program, and after that they go on a wait list. The more donors who step up to play Santa, the more families get helped.

The effects on the families is significant. The father who lost his job left their Christmas decorations up until February because seeing other families step forward to take care of them in their time of need made Christmas so wonderful that they didn’t want it to end. The drug-addicted mom didn’t say thank you to the family who helped her, but when she closed the door behind them, she sat on the stairs and cried, as she suddenly realized that these complete strangers were taking better care of her daughter than she had been able to do. Five years later, sober and employed, that woman joined Fraserside as a volunteer for the program. According to Fraserside program director Diane Cairns, many people who have been ‘adopted’ later return as sponsors or volunteers.

As I mentioned, the Adopt-A-Family program pairs donors with families based either on how much the donor wants to spend or the ages of the children they want to sponsor (many donors participate as a family and have their own children select the gifts for the kids they ‘adopt’). Fraserside asks donors to spend $150-200 on groceries for each family, plus $50-75 in toys and clothing for each child. Donors can be as hands-on as they wish: they can personally shop for and deliver gifts or give Fraserside money and let their volunteers make the purchases and delivery.

The adoptees are all low-income families living in New Westminster, and almost all are first-time participants in the program, as priority is given to new participants. Last year 134 local families (about 600 people) benefited from the program, and sponsors came from 17 different communities in the Lower Mainland. Donors are asked to deliver their gifts either to the families directly or to Fraserside to distribute on their behalf by December 18. If you’d like to participate, you can find information on the program and the application form online.

People struggle all year round of course, but at Christmastime it seems especially sad. I am not a Christian, but I find my own meaning in Christmas traditions and I am inspired by the Christmas story. Religious people have their own deep significance for the holiday of course, but I see it as a beacon of hope in cold, dark times. It is a reminder that even when your nose is ‘froze and you can’t see your own feet, you can trust that light and warmth will return to the world. If you’re looking for a way to offer a little hope to a family facing dark times, consider adopting a family in need this Christmas.

LA Times gives props to local balcony veggie-gardening program

New West’s Biggest Little Garden program has attracted attention from the LA Times, which has published an article about the innovative community gardening initiative. The program is the brainchild of Fraserside Living Well Program director Diane Cairns, who had to find a solution to increase local food production in a city where 70% of us live in apartment buildings. She wanted to revive the old ‘Victory Garden’ concept of growing your own fruits and vegetables – and sharing the harvest with your neighbours – but how could it take off when so few residents had backyards? 

There was only one solution: Bring the dirt to the people. Despite having no gardening background, Cairns designed a compact, three-tiered planter made of a handsome (and rot-resistant) cedar — just the right size for a small balcony. The 32-by-8-by-8-inch planters are narrow enough to squeeze through small apartment doors, raised high enough so no stooping is required for planting and picking, and built with a trellis on the top tier to support bean and squash vines.
The garden, soil and plants are delivered for free to whomever opts into the program. In return, participants promise to water and weed and to share leftover produce with neighbors.
Cairns hoped to have eight to 10 pilot Biggest Little Gardens in 2007, but the project was so popular in that first year, she wound up with 54. Two years later, 108 gardens are in operation and Cairns has secured funding for an additional 70 in the coming growing season. A community service group in nearby Surrey is planning to copy the program.
– LA Times | Balcony Vegetable Patch


The program is completely free for low-income apartment-dwellers in New Westminster, however you must sign a contract in which you pledge to care for the plants and ensure the produce doesn’t go to waste – any excess must be given to family or friends or donated to the food bank via New West’s Plant A Row, Grow A Row program administered out of St. Aidan’s Church.

I’m one of the lucky ones with a yard in New West, but since spotting the planter and reading about the program last year, I’ve thought I’d like to buy one for my back deck! Those who don’t qualify for the free program can buy a planter for $175 (proceeds go back to the program). 

For more info the Biggest Little Garden, visit Fraserside’s website


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