“Everyone should get something for Christmas.”
That was the sentiment from Lord Tennyson Elementary student Sienna, who joined a group of Grade Four classmates Dec. 11, in dropping off gifts for street youth to the Courier’s office.
This is the seventh year program coordinator Kathy Quinn has helped Grade Four students from the school organize fundraisers in order to purchase warm scarves, coats, toques and gift cards for youth living on the street or in shelters.
Quinn said the students raised money through a bake sale, by collecting pop bottles and cans, made regular announcements at their school, had parents contribute new items of clothing, and created a wishing well for donations.
“We raised a couple of hundred dollars with the wishing well,” said Quinn. “And with that money we bought gift cards.”
The items are collected as part of an initiative Glacier Media office manager June Stafford began 15-years ago, which benefits teenagers through Directions Youth Services, a non-profit organization that helps street youth meet immediate needs through hot meals, showers and laundry facilities.
Stafford started the program because, as the mother of a young son at the time, she wanted to help. Stafford launched the Christmas Drive on behalf of Directions that first year by placing an ad in the Courier asking for donations.
The project has grown substantially since then. As a result of her efforts in 2012, Stafford and the Courier were honoured with gold at the 2013 Canadian Community Newspaper Awards for outstanding community service.
“Being the mother of a young child, I felt I would never want to see any child not have someone to care about them,” said Stafford. “I wanted to try to help these kids get back on their feet and feel like there are people out there who care. They need to know that people out there do care and there’s help out there to get them on the right path.”
Directions Youth Services encourages teens and young adults to seek support through education, recreation and artistic programs. In addition to lockers and pet kennels, the centre also offers a space for youth to shower and clean up before a job interview, a family meeting or for their own sake, which is why it’s so important for them to have on hand essential toiletries, such as disposable razors, shampoo, tampons, soap and hair clippers.
Other items on the centre’s wish list include gift cards, particularly for fast-food restaurants and coffee shops, transit passes and new items such as underwear, sneakers and boots, warm jackets, gloves, hats, socks, rain pants and jackets, and any teen-appropriate clothing. Homeless youth are always in need of sleeping bags, backpacks, tarps, sheets, blankets and first aid items.
In 2018, more than 700 youth asked for assistance from Directions, while another 5,900 connected to the outreach team. As well, Directions served 37,000 meals and snacks and had 25,000 visits to its service centre. Directions also operates Youth Haven, a five-bed home that offers emergency housing to high-risk youth age 16 to 19, living with mental health and or substance abuse issues.
Another initiative of Directions is Youth Safehouse, a nine-bed house that provides secure and stable emergency housing for at-risk youth ages 16 to 18. At Safehouse, the Directions team work with youth to help them secure income assistance, mental health and substance use supports, find permanent housing, and get connected with other help they need.
Since 2004, Stafford has collected countless items for street youth and kids living in shelters — and the Tennyson students have been a big part of the program’s success. But donations are down this year, so the deadline to make a contribution has been extended to Dec. 20.
For more information about Directions, visit fsgv.ca. Donations of new goods can be dropped off Monday to Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the Courier office, 303 West Fifth Ave., or call 604-630-3501 and ask for June.