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.

Buy local this Christmas: Here’s where to shop in New Westminster

This is a guest post by Sheila Keenan, a local blogger who has committed to shopping only in New Westminster for one year. She is chronicling her experiences on her blog, My Year of Shopping Locally. If you have some local shopping tips for Sheila (and the rest of us!) please share your suggestions in the comments!

Presents around a Christmas tree.
Presents around a Christmas tree.

I like Christmas presents that get used up or used often. My husband just brought up the Christmas decorations from our crawl space and somehow we’ve become the kind of people who have 13 Rubbermaid containers full of them. (13!) Trying to find room for everything made me realize how cluttered our house is getting, so I’m not into giving or receiving gifts that are just going to take up more space.  Since I’ve committed to shopping locally for a year, I’m also interested in finding gifts that are made as locally as possible. Here are some of the places I will be doing my Christmas shopping this year.

Van Dop Gallery 421 Richmond Street

I wasn’t sure how the gallery would fit with my “use it up or use it often” philosophy, but it’s hosting  “Spirit of the Season” open houses every weekend before Christmas, so the gallery is full of lots of extra goodies, like soap and candles. Besides, I think art does get “used” often—if it’s in your home, you get to enjoy it every day.
It was my first time visiting the gallery. I think I have been hesitant to go because I thought art must equal expensive, but I found a wide range of prices.
There’s also a wide range of things to look at, from silver-plated salad servers with a Tsimshian First Nations design to the bright and colourful art of Grant Leier to charming “tinsel” ornaments. I went through each room twice and I’m glad I did because I saw many things I hadn’t spotted on my first go-round. I’m planning to return next Saturday too, when three jewellers, including Joanna Lovett, will be in attendance.

Queen’s Park Florist 619 Carnarvon St.

I was so pleased to find out Queen’s Park Florist is offering workshops this Christmas season. I’d like to do the Christmas garland one. There are also workshops to create a Christmas planter, flower arrangement and wreath centrepiece, which would all make lovely gifts. Cost is $40, which includes materials. Register by Dec. 1.

Black Bond Books at Royal City Centre 610 Sixth St.

Books are always on my Christmas shopping list. Black Bond Books is one of the few remaining independent book stores left in the Lower Mainland. Their New West store has a regional section with some New Westminster titles such as Royal City: A Photographic History of New Westminster, 1858–1960 by Jim Wolf and The Life and Destruction of Saint Mary’s Hospital by New Westminster author and city councillor Jaimie McEvoy. There weren’t any copies of A New Westminster Album: Glimpses of the City as it Was by local historians Gavin Hainsworth and Katherine Freund-Hainsworth in the store when I visited, but it is a title they also usually carry.

Giving an experience is a good way to ensure your gift doesn’t end up collecting dust in a corner.

Pacific Breeze Winery 6-320 Stewardson Way

Pacific Breeze Winery has intriguing sounding “Private Tasting” packages that start at $25 per person for a minimum of four people. Contact Meaghan Spencer at ( 604) 880-0582 or by e-mail at for information on how to book. The winery also has a wine club and sells gift baskets.

Paddlewheeler Riverboat Tours #139 – 810 Quayside Drive (east side of Fraser River Discovery Centre)

I used to work at an office on the Quay and I loved watching the river from my window. There was always something interesting going on—barges going by, tugboats pulling endlessly long log booms, seals splashing around during fish runs. This year, I’m planning to take my family on a river boat tour so we can get a view of the Fraser while actually on the Fraser. There are several Christmas season cruises available and the 2011 schedule is already posted online if you are interested in purchasing a gift certificate for someone to use later.

There are many unique boutiques in New West, which Tenth to the Fraser has explored before , but here are two more worth visiting.

Essence Home Decor Suite 118 – 960 Quayside Drive (next to Inn at the Quay)

Owner Lorna Stewart has stocked her store with many local and Canadian items, including crackers from Gone Crackers and Edible Gardens oils, vinegars and spreads, along with a good selection of Olde World Fudge products. There’s also funky jewellery by Canadian designers like Anne Marie Chagnon of Montreal and Canadian-made handbags.

Fraser River Discovery Centre 788 Quayside Drive

The Fraser River Discovery Centre has a small, but well curated gift shop that includes many local and Canadian-made items including art, jewellery (cool glass rings!), candles and Bramies soft leather baby and toddler shoes. Celina Strachan, FRDC’s Operations Assistant, said her goal is to eventually have most of the items in the store be from artisans who live along the Fraser River.

Halloween Craft: My Little Pumpkin Frame

This is a guest post from Melissa Balfour from New Westminster’s Pretty Up Parties. Melissa provides themed party decoration rental kits and party planning services to Greater Vancouver hosts and hostesses.

Get the kids together to participate in this Halloween craft activity that makes a great gift for family and friends who also love your little pumpkin!

The finished Halloween photo frame
The finished Halloween photo frame

You’ll Need:

  • 2 orange pipe cleaners
  • 1 green pipe cleaner
  • 1 sparkly green pipe cleaner
  • 1 orange Halloween garland
  • 1 piece of black foam
  • 1 picture
  • glue
  • magnets
  • scissors
  • foam letters spelling BOO!
Here's what you need for the craft
Here's what you need for the craft

Glue picture to the black foam. Cut out the picture with foam back and set aside to dry. With the remaining foam cut out black squares to place underneath your BOO! letters. Glue letters to the foam and set aside to dry.

Place orange pipe cleaners side by side and twist both ends together to form a circle. Circle should be big enough to fit around your picture.

To make the frame, twist the pipe cleaners together and then wrap the garland around the pipe cleaners.
To make the frame, twist the pipe cleaners together and then wrap the garland around the pipe cleaners.

Wrap garland around the pipe cleaner once and then once more to hide all the orange pipe cleaner. Now you’ve got your pumpkin body!

Cut green and sparkly green pipe cleaner in half. Bend in half and twist together to form the stem. Attach cut ends to the pumpkin body by bending the end around the garland.

Place a line of glue around the edges of your picture. Carefully place your pumpkin body over the picture and mold into a pumpkin shape around the photo. Add glue to the back of your letter shapes and place on the front of your pumpkin. Place a book on top of your pumpkin frame until the glue has set. (For faster results use a hot glue gun to glue pumpkin body to the picture and letter shapes to the garland.)

Once the glue has dried, remove book and fluff up the garland! Peel back tape from magnets and place on the back of your photo. Trim the corners of the photo and foam so that it does not peek out from behind the pumpkin body. Place on your fridge and enjoy!

Scares for a good cause at Metro’s ‘Haunted Hall’

On October 31, The Metro will transform into a 'Haunted Hall' with activities for kids aged 2-10 in the afternoon and scary movies later on for the grown-ups and older kids.
On October 31, The Metro will transform into a 'Haunted Hall' with activities for kids aged 2-10 in the afternoon and scary movies later on for the grown-ups and older kids.

New Westminster may have a great family Halloween tradition in the making with The Metro Hall’s ‘spooktacular’ Haunted Hall.

On October 31, The Metro will transform its 8000 square foot events centre into a Haunted Hall in support of local charities. The family-friendly event will feature creepy cobwebs, ghosts and goblins, spooky sounds, a bouncy castle, tricks and treats, Halloween movies on a big screen and haunted hall tours with live spooks for the not so faint of heart.

The event caters to the local community and particularly families with Kids aged 2-10. During the day, the focus will be on younger families and will feature the bouncy castle and haunted hall tours. In the evening, The Metro will be featuring larger than life “fear flix” on the 9’ X 12’ screen for families with older kids.

The Metro’s Haunted Hall is located at 759 Carnarvon Street, New Westminster and is open on Halloween Day from 2pm – 10pm. Entry is by donation in support of The Youth Centre at Moody Park and Purpose Society.

Located in Downtown New Westminster, The Metro is an 8000 sq foot banquet hall and events centre catering to clients seeking a more uniquely glamorous venue. The Metro opened in February, 2009 and has been host to an array of events including weddings, fund raisers, corporate events, award ceremonies, musical acts, arts and cultural events and more.

Hyack the Holidays: Mother’s Day gift guide

A bouquet from Queen's Park Florist
A bouquet from Queen's Park Florist

Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday, May 9. While thoughtful, free treats like breakfast in bed and family outings to special places are always a great idea for mums, it also feels good to have someone splurge on you. Shop locally, and you can find a great gift for mum while also supporting our community. Here are my New Westminster gift picks for Mother’s Day:

Those are some of my ideas, but I’m sure there’s more. What’s your best recco for a local Mother’s Day gift?

Advertising disclosure note: Queen’s Park Florist & Pinky & Co. are among our advertisers, however neither one paid for placement in this post. I just like them!

Hyack the Holidays: That special something

New Westminster is a haven for unique boutiques. Perhaps it’s the character buildings lining our main shopping districts chock-a-block that draw the proprietors of these neat little businesses … or maybe just the low rents that can be found in some of our legendarily ‘up and coming’ neighbourhoods.

Here are some of my picks for places to go when you’re looking for that unique ‘special something’ for the person who’s hard to buy for.

Opulence, 437 E. Columbia St.

What a fun store to browse. Opulence specializes in everything Art Deco and Art Nouveau. It’s an eclectic assortment of jewelry, art prints, books, textiles, soaps & hand creams, with a few vintage lamps and other home accessories in the mix. I’m not a hand cream girl, but even I was seduced by the pretty period packaging. When the kids are big enough that they stop tugging at my earrings and breaking my necklaces, I plan on coming back to Opulence and treating myself to some bling.

Cadeaux, 467 E. Columbia St.

Cadeaux is well known for its jewelry and soaps, but they also have quite a collection of Christmas ornaments and silly stocking stuffers, as well as luxury pajama sets in the back.

Karmavore, 569 E. Columbia St.

A vegan specialty store, this is obviously an excellent place to find vegan beauty products, marshmallows , and ‘message’ stickers and jewelry. It’s also home to Astrosatchel bags, which even carnivores must admit are just plain stylish.

Clever Mink’s, 711 Carnarvon St.

Tucked away from the main drag, Clever Mink’s owners Brad and Nancy Gephart fill their cozy store with things that are just plain … neat. Funny T-shirts (that really will make you laugh), home decor and stocking stuffers … you never know quite what you’ll come across at Clever Mink’s.

Urban Gypsy, 614 Columbia St.

A Columbia St. favourite, Urban Gypsy stocks exotic furniture, jewelry and art from India, Nepal and other parts of South Asia. Owner Jason McGill has a keen eye for the unique and the beautiful. While most of the stock is big-ticket items like furniture, the jewelry is quite reasonably priced and there’s always a selection of smaller items near the back – things like photo frames, paper journals, candleholders and so on.

Lofty Living, 610 Columbia St.

At Lofty Living, they’ve got a thing for birds. You’ll find arty avians on pillows, laptop bags, cards, placemats … even salt & pepper shakers. I always love to browse through the store – and not just because I happen to like birds! With so many antique stores in New West, it’s refreshing to see a sleek, modern look juxtaposed with our heritage architecture.

Tranquility Art & Gifts, Royal City Centre

Ok, so this is the kind of store I wouldn’t normally bother to check out; I’m usually not too impressed with mall stores that sell framed art prints. But in planning the Hyack the Holidays series, I made a special effort to step into stores I wouldn’t normally frequent just in case there were some hidden gems. To my surprise, this was one of them. While I’m just not the target market for the scented soaps and Easter Island tissue holders (you pull the tissue out the nose of the “faux-pierre” face …) I actually ended up buying a few things in there. I’d recommend stopping in here if you’re looking for stocking stuffers (things like reusable fabric bags that tuck away into a wallet-sized pouch, pretty matchboxes, scalp massagers, Christmas ornaments and small stuffed animals) or for women’s accessories. I bought a collapsible red wool cloche hat for myself and thought the handbags and jewelry would be worth a look if I had another woman to buy for.

Adriana’s, Royal City Centre

Again with the scented everything … but there were also some cute & colourful kitchen and garden accessories that would be great stocking stuffers for a woman. When I was in, Adriana’s had bird-shaped kitchen scissors, pretty painted garden trowels and veggie scrub brushes, and special hand creams for gardeners.