Community Papers

Christmas Bureau brings smiles to needy families

Stephen D
Stephen D'Souza, of Burnaby Community Services, with some of the toys being distributed by the Burnaby Christmas Bureau. The Bureau is helping more than 1,500 Burnaby families enjoy Christmas this year.

Stephen D'Souza loves the smiles he sees as people leave the Burnaby Christmas Bureau. But he knows the happiness brought by a special toy or a pair of warm mitten under the tree is only temporary.

Until the root causes of poverty are address, agencies like the Christmas Bureau will only be a bandaid, a seasonal salve, says D'Souza, the executive director of Burnaby Community Services that manages the Christmas Bureau.

"We're a step to help get them out of a situation they're in," says D'Sousa. "But we need to look at longer term solutions. We need to help build people's capacity to find employment, to find affordable child care, to create options for seniors."

The Christmas Bureau has been bringing smiles to Burnaby's families and seniors in need for 32 years. This year 1,500 families will have gifts under their trees thanks to donations from the corporate community, unions and individuals.

The Christmas Bureau is almost a year-round effort that pays off in the week before Christmas when parents are able to "shop" the shelves stacked high with brand new toys for kids of all ages from stacking blocks to giant teddy bears to hockey sticks. There's also gifts for adults and seniors.

The work begins by touching base with various social service agencies in Burnaby and scouring school enrolment numbers "to get a sense of the demographic and what's happening on the ground," says D'Souza.

Then comes the task of securing a location that's big enough to store, sort and display all the toys and gifts. This year the Bureau lucked out when the City of Burnaby donated the use of the old Edmonds library branch after its services as the temporary Eastburn community centre were no longer required.

D'Souza says demand for the Christmas Bureau has levelled out in recent years, after a huge surge during the recession of 2008. Donations also plummeted that year but have since creeped back closer to parity with the need.

"It's always a balancing act to make sure people who need (the Christmas Bureau) are getting access to it," says D'Souza.

Over the years, says D'Souza, the Bureau has worked hard to create a sense of community to make donors, volunteers and recipients feel like they're part of something special rather than just a charitable endeavour. It's that community that will help give needy families the greatest gift that can't be tucked under the tree, the confidence and resources to move forward in their lives.



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