Groups step up to save hamper program

Adopt-a-family plan helps families in need in the city

Family Services of Greater Vancouver is ensuring that needy families won't have to go without this Christmas.

Fraserside Community Services has traditionally hosted the adopt-a-family program in New Westminster at Christmas, but recently announced it was unable to oversee the program any longer. Once the shock of the announcement had passed, local organizations involved in an interagency committee hunkered down and got to work determining how the program could continue.

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"We were trying to figure out everything we could do," said Patricia Steiner, coordinator of community education and development services for Family Services of Greater Vancouver. "Everyone was offering something."

In the end, it was decided that Family Services was in the best position to host the adopt-a-family program, with the support of other groups in the city.

"We believe the community really needs and wants this program," Steiner said. "Donors really want a place to support at Christmas. Families are in need. We wanted to do it for all the reasons everyone wants to do it. We had the capacity to do it."

Family Services initially stepped in to help for this year, but Steiner anticipates it will continue to run the program in future years.

"We'd like to continue doing it," she said. "I think it makes sense for what our agency does and our mandate."

Family Services has provided a room where the program will be administered and hired a part-time employee to coordinate the program.

"We have started. We have a couple families registered," Steiner said. "The families are finding us."

Steiner said the greatest need is to find sponsors for the families who will be registered for the adopt-a-family program, as it's starting from square one with sponsors.

"We need sponsors and donors," she said. "It's easy getting word out to the families."

The program allows individuals, families, businesses, groups and teams to sponsor a New Westminster family in need.

Family Services of Greater Vancouver is inviting people to participate by donating money or gift certificates, or by adopting a family.

Sponsors can also adopt a family, in which case they would receive the family's wish list, go shopping, wrap the gifts and deliver them to the family the week before Christmas.

Organizers recommend that each family be given $100 to $150 per person, with half of that going to food and half to gifts.

"We are trying to bring it down a little bit," Steiner said of the new donation guidelines. "We want to serve as many families as we can."

While Family Services has funded a part-time position for the program, it doesn't have a huge amount of space for storing items that may be donated.

"We are not discouraging donations," Steiner stressed. "We are encouraging people to donate gift cards. We have one small office that we can use and are going to use. We don't really have the capacity to take on big donations and deliver them."

Steiner said Fraserside served about 180 families at Christmas through the adopt-a-family program.

"They had been working on it for nine years," she noted. "This is the first year for us. We would love to bring it to the same level. It depends on the sponsors and donors we get."

Sue Sparlin, who worked with the program at Fraserside, will coordinate the program with Family Services.

"The cost was the office space, storage space and Sue's time," Steiner said. "Thank goodness she has experience. That helps."

Steiner believes that the response from local agencies is indicative of the good work that can be accomplished in New Westminster.

"This came up really quick," she noted. "Everyone has a way of contributing. It's really good."

Lynda Edmonds, Fraserside's CEO, echoes those sentiments.

"I am grateful for this community," she said. "People see the need and they step forward. It's an honour to be part of this community."

Edmonds said Fraserside wasn't able to run the adopt-a-program this year and took the issue to the interagency committee, which generously struck a committee and made arrangements that would allow the program to continue.

"We did a financial review this year. We decided we needed to be careful," Edmonds said of Fraserside's decision. "It was a sad decision. It's a very heartfelt service. People felt very connected to it. We had to make it work financially and we couldn't do it."

Edmonds said Fraserside is helping to ease the transition by providing information and support to Family Services.

For more information, visit www.fsgv. ca, call Sue Sparlin at 604-525-9144 or email

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