Column: On their own for Christmas

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So, your mom’s an addict, dad’s out of the picture, and you’re a former foster kid who’s just trying to keep it together.

Mom keeps trying to sponge off you, now that you’ve got your own place. But with the holidays coming, she’s disappeared again.

You’re 19, and you dream of applying for veterinary assistant school, because you love animals, but you can’t really even afford groceries.

Now imagine it’s Christmas.

That’s the situation facing Tara (not her real name), one of five foster youths whose stories were recently shared in an appeal for donations of grocery and department store gift cards for young people who could really use them.

Although the holiday season is a happy time for many, filled with family, traditions, gifts and great food, it’s a time of pain for others, according to the folks at SOS Children’s Village BC.

The society, headquartered in Cloverdale, runs the Transition to Adulthood program. It’s for youths aged 16 to 24 who have little support from family.

When asked what they wanted for Christmas, “almost all of the kids asked for grocery gift cards,” program coordinator Katie Perkins, a social worker, told the Reporter Monday.

“A lot of them are working part time,” she says. “They’re really trying to support themselves.”

The society is trying to make this Christmas a little brighter by helping them meet their basic needs.

Tara, for instance, needs bath towels for her place, and would love some gift cards for Chapters or Indigo. A gift card for PriceSmart would help with groceries.

Matthew, also 19, was living with his emotionally abusive mom until she was evicted in September. Now he’s couch-surfing while attending school full time.

He’s hoping to get a job so he can finish his studies. Meanwhile, he desperately needs help getting food. Gift cards from Wal-Mart or Price

Smart would make a difference.

Or picture Jennifer, a young mom with a two-year-old girl. Like the others, she’s trying to make her own way in the world, without the kind of family life many of us take for granted.

She’s only getting a couple of shifts a week at her job – not enough to provide for herself or her daughter. A gift card for Toys R Us is on Jennifer’s wish list.

Donations of gift cards or cash will be gratefully accepted. Cash will not be given directly to youth, but will be used to purchase specific items for youth by staff.

Perkins says the program was launched about a year and a half ago to address the needs of foster kids making the often difficult and confusing transition to adulthood.

Once they reach the age of 19, they’re more or less expected to fend for themselves, even though it’s practically become the norm for children from stable families to remain at home into their adult years.

Perkins and colleague Stephanie Shuttleworth work one-on-one with the youth, helping them with a range of needs, whether it’s hunting down safe and affordable housing, finding a job or applying for valid identification so they can qualify for social assistance.

They also provide counselling and therapy.

Having the type of support that many of us take for granted is critical during the first two or three years after youths leave foster care, and can turn their lives around.

“Once they turn 19, there are so few supports for them,” she says.

Perkins notes statistics continue to show that as many as 70  per cent of the homeless people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside lived in foster care.

Gift cards can be mailed or dropped off at their head office in Cloverdale, at 102 5830 176A Street, Surrey, B.C., V3S 4H5 (attention Katie Perkins or Stephanie Shuttleworth).

Call 604-574-2964 to arrange pick up instead.

Donations of cash are eligible for a charitable tax receipt.

It’s something to keep in mind while you’re out making your shopping rounds.

Imagine how it would feel, knowing a stranger cares.

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